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The Sanctuary Of Montrigone
by [?]


The only place in the Valsesia, except Varallo, where I at present suspect the presence of Tabachetti {7} is at Montrigone, a little-known sanctuary dedicated to St. Anne, about three-quarters of a mile south of Borgo-Sesia station. The situation is, of course, lovely, but the sanctuary does not offer any features of architectural interest. The sacristan told me it was founded in 1631; and in 1644 Giovanni d’Enrico, while engaged in superintending and completing the work undertaken here by himself and Giacomo Ferro, fell ill and died. I do not know whether or no there was an earlier sanctuary on the same site, but was told it was built on the demolition of a stronghold belonging to the Counts of Biandrate.

The incidents which it illustrates are treated with even more than the homeliness usual in works of this description when not dealing with such solemn events as the death and passion of Christ. Except when these subjects were being represented, something of the latitude, and even humour, allowed in the old mystery plays was permitted, doubtless from a desire to render the work more attractive to the peasants, who were the most numerous and most important pilgrims. It is not until faith begins to be weak that it fears an occasionally lighter treatment of semi-sacred subjects, and it is impossible to convey an accurate idea of the spirit prevailing at this hamlet of sanctuary without attuning oneself somewhat to the more pagan character of the place. Of irreverence, in the sense of a desire to laugh at things that are of high and serious import, there is not a trace, but at the same time there is a certain unbending of the bow at Montrigone which is not perceivable at Varallo.

The first chapel to the left on entering the church is that of the Birth of the Virgin. St. Anne is sitting up in bed. She is not at all ill–in fact, considering that the Virgin has only been born about five minutes, she is wonderful; still the doctors think it may be perhaps better that she should keep her room for half an hour longer, so the bed has been festooned with red and white paper roses, and the counterpane is covered with bouquets in baskets and in vases of glass and china. These cannot have been there during the actual birth of the Virgin, so I suppose they had been in readiness, and were brought in from an adjoining room as soon as the baby had been born. A lady on her left is bringing in some more flowers, which St. Anne is receiving with a smile and most gracious gesture of the hands. The first thing she asked for, when the birth was over, was for her three silver hearts. These were immediately brought to her, and she has got them all on, tied round her neck with a piece of blue silk ribbon.

Dear mamma has come. We felt sure she would, and that any little misunderstandings between her and Joachim would ere long be forgotten and forgiven. They are both so good and sensible if they would only understand one another. At any rate, here she is, in high state at the right hand of the bed. She is dressed in black, for she has lost her husband some few years previously, but I do not believe a smarter, sprier old lady for her years could be found in Palestine, nor yet that either Giovanni d’Enrico or Giacomo Ferro could have conceived or executed such a character. The sacristan wanted to have it that she was not a woman at all, but was a portrait of St. Joachim, the Virgin’s father. “Sembra una donna,” he pleaded more than once, “ma non e donna.” Surely, however, in works of art even more than in other things, there is no “is” but seeming, and if a figure seems female it must be taken as such. Besides, I asked one of the leading doctors at Varallo whether the figure was man or woman. He said it was evident I was not married, for that if I had been I should have seen at once that she was not only a woman but a mother-in-law of the first magnitude, or, as he called it, “una suocera tremenda,” and this without knowing that I wanted her to be a mother-in- law myself. Unfortunately she had no real drapery, so I could not settle the question as my friend Mr. H. F. Jones and I had been able to do at Varallo with the figure of Eve that had been turned into a Roman soldier assisting at the capture of Christ. I am not, however, disposed to waste more time upon anything so obvious, and will content myself with saying that we have here the Virgin’s grandmother. I had never had the pleasure, so far as I remembered, of meeting this lady before, and was glad to have an opportunity of making her acquaintance.