Montepulciano, as well as its surrounding territories of Valdichiana and Valdorcia, is rich of places of worship, mostly of catholic faith: among religious festivals and saints, there are also historic, cultural and touristic itineraries related to spirituality and faith. This adds up to the most classical local excellences, such as Vino Nobile, culture, music, nature and thermal baths.
Religion has been an important part of the history of Montepulciano, between churches, convents and the heritage of pagan cults and folk traditions. Each bell tower was extremely jealous of its saints, and countless are the sanctuaries that enshrine the catholic relics: they pass on the memory of miracle events and they beckon pilgrims and believers. I’m about to talk to you about a sanctuary that belongs to the diocese of Montepulciano-Chiusi-Pienza, which is part of a religious itinerary, based on the work of the Chianciano Terme – Valdichiana Tourist Office.
Montepulciano – Shrine of the Madonna del Buon Viaggio
In the church of San Biagio
In the other part of Montepulciano’s historical centre form Sant’Agnese, at the Pienza and Chianciano Terme crossroards, we open out into an avenue flanked by cypresses leading to the church of San Biagio. The church was created on popular demand following a miracle that occurred in 1518. An ancient parish church was located on the site of the Renaissance church, initially dedicated to Mary then subsequently to Biagio and of which only ruins of a wall featuring a 14th century image of the Vergine col Bambino e S.Francesco remained. On April 23, 1518 two girls, returning from drawing water from a nearby fountain, witnessed the Madonna’s eyes repeatedly opening and closing. A farmer called Toto, who happened to be there when his oxen kneeled before the image, also witnessed the miracle. It was Toto who made the miracle known and did his utmost to find funds to build the church. The fifteenth of September 1518 saw the commencement of construction. In 1681 the Vatican allowed the miraculous image to be crowned in gold and in 1739 the church was consecrated by the bishop of Montepulciano. In 1963 the image of the Madonna of San Biagio was proclaimed Madonna del Buon Viaggio, protector of those who travel by earth, sea and sky.
The church of San Biagio is a Renaissance architectural masterpiece, in the form of a Greek cross, designed by the architect Antonio da San Gallo the Elder with the support of Pope Leo X. The construction of the church extended until 1580 and the work was continued by various superintendents following the architect’s death. The decision to only use travertine as construction material gives the building a delicate warmth of tone. Each facade is identical, except that one has an apse topped by a triangular tympanum and enlivened by a sharply recessed central eye. The pronounced Doric trabeation that distinguishes the first from the second level continues throughout the building both inside and out, it is simple and classica with alternating square triglyphs and metopes. The circular dome’s tambour with a lantern of twin balusters, rests on a square-based parallelepiped whose position at the intersection of the four wings serves to highlight the dome. The semicircular apse features small splayed windows flanked by pilasters. The two bell towers are perfectly aligned with the main facade, but only one has been completed along classical lines, the second is incomplete on the first level. The main altar features a large marble frontal, work of Florentine sculptors Giannozzo and Lisandro di Pietro Albertini, who completed in 1584 from a desing by Sangallo. It now houses the miraculous image.
The main religious feasts fall on February 3 for the martyrdom of Saint Biagio and the first Sunday of September, at which the Madonna del Buon Viaggio is invoked. The latter religious festival also includes popular games.