Madonna della Difesa — Vaulted CeilingsWritten by Mélanie Grondin / Roger Boccini Nincheri
The Transept Vaults
Even though church construction was completed by 1919, Nincheri was only able to start its interior decoration in 1928. As usual, it was a question of money. Vangelisti wrote that they still didn’t have any money by then, but that they decided to go ahead with some the decoration because the new priest wanted to boost morale (maybe because they were no longer allowed to teach the Italian language at their school). The areas they first decided to decorate were the apse above the sanctuary and the four vaulted ceilings above each arm of the church.
We don’t know the exact date for each of the specific decorations, but the work lasted from 1928 to 1933.
When the church’s cornerstone was laid down, the parish was under the aegis of the Order of the Servites of Mary, a Florentine order founded in 1233, when seven men decided to sell their possessions and become ascetics. The mother church, in Florence, is called Santissima Annunziata. The Order is particularly devoted to the Virgin Mary and it was a vision of the Virgin that told them to follow the Rule of St. Augustine and adopt a black habit. They adopted the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty and devoted their lives to contemplating all aspects of Mary’s life, particularly the Seven Sorrows of Mary:
- the Prophecy of Simeon or the Circumcision of Christ;
- the Flight into Egypt;
- the loss of the child Jesus in the Temple;
- Mary meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary;
- Jesus dying on the cross;
- the piercing of the side of Jesus and Mary’s receiving the body of Jesus in her arms; and
- the body of Jesus being placed in the tomb.
Part of their history is shown in the characters depicted in the vaulted ceiling of each arm, along with angels that represent theological virtues. All photos below were taken by Roger Boccini Nincheri.
Alma Street Side
The figures in this vault are three violent men who were converted by St. Filippo Benizi, the Order’s most important Superior.
Angel with yoke: Obedience and patience.
St. Bonaventura Buonaccorsi (1240–1315): A brutal man converted by St. Filippo Benizi’s preaching, he joined the Order and became Benizi’s assistant. He was an important peacemaker at the time.
Angel with cross: Faith and the Passion of Christ.
St. Peregrino Laziosi (1260–1345):Laziosi was a young Ghibelline who hit St. Philip Benizi during a skirmish in Forli. Laziosi later repented and asked to join the Order. Known for his love for penance, he stood for long hours in prayer, only supporting himself on a choir stall when he was too tired. At sixty, he developed cancer in his right leg, and a physician decided that it needed to be amputated. On the night before the operation, Laziosi dragged himself before a crucifix in the Chapter Room of the Forli priory. Becoming drowsy, he saw Jesus descend from the cross to heal his leg. The following day, the doctor arrived, but found no sign of disease. Today, San Pellegrino is the patron saint of cancer patients.
Nincheri also depicted Laziosi in a window found at St. Anthony of Padua, the Italian church in Ottawa.
Angel with finger on lips: Prudence.
Blessed Ubaldo Adimari (1245–1315):A violent Ghibelline who was also converted by St. Philip Benizi. He remained in the Monte Senario convent in penitence most of his life. His miracles include reviving a cooked partridge with the sign of the cross.
Angel with flail: The Passion of Christ.
Dante Street Side
The figures in this vault are the founder of Mantellate, the women’s branch of the Order, along with two important sisters of the Order.
Angel with lilies: Purity and virginity.
Blessed Elisabeth Picenardia (1428–1468): A young woman who, at the age of twenty, joined the Mantellate. She practised penitence her whole life and was particularly devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Angel with crown: The prize given to those who win the battle of the Just.
St. Giuliana Falconieri (1270–1341): Her father helped build what became the present-day Santissima Annunciata—the mother church of the Servite Order. She established the women’s branch of the Order, known as the Mantellate, in 1304.
She is depicted holding both a lily, the symbol of Mary to whom she was devoted, and a book, which represents the rules she drew up for the Mantellate. The Eucharist on her chest recalls her death: as she was dying, she couldn’t take Communion anymore, so she asked that the Eucharist be placed on her chest; it immediately dissolved into her body.
There is also a painting of St. Giuliana Falconieri at the entrance of Madonna della Difesa, and Nincheri depicted her in a window found at St. Anthony of Padua, the Italian church in Ottawa.
Angel with psalteron: Prayers to God.
Blessed Giovanna Soderini (1301–1367): Entered the Mantellatein 1313 after being entrusted to St. Giuliana Falconieri. After the Saint’s death, she became Mother Superior.
Angel with lamp (Kateri Tekakwita): The lit lamp in the prudent bride who awaits the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1–13).
Henri-Julien Street Side
The figures in this vault are figures from the Order who led saintly lives of contemplation and penance.
Angel with Veronica’s sudarium: The Passion of Christ.
Blessed Giacomo Filippo Bertoni (1444–1483): He joined the order as a child and became its procurator. His saintly life made him popular and his cult was almost immediate.
Angel with IHS: Jesus, Saviour of Men (Iesus Hominis Salvator).
Blessed Gioacchino Piccolomini (1258–1306):Joined the tertiary Order as a lay brother at the age of fourteen. He was a spiritual student of St. Filippo Benizi. The Virgin is said to have appeared to him with two crowns in her hands; one of rubies (which he is wearing in the painting) to reward him for his compassion in her sorrows, and the other of pearls, in recompense for his virginity.
Angel with the monstrance: The Eucharist.
Blessed Angelo Porro (1451–1505):Led a life of contemplation and penance. Later in life, he engaged in the careful preparation of young children in Christian doctrine.
Angel with AM: Hail Mary (Ave Maria).
The figures in this vault are figures from the Order who are particularly renowned for their preaching.
Angel with stole: Priesthood.
Blessed Franciscus Patricius of Sienna (1266–1328): Priest of the Order who turned to preaching and spiritual direction Ministry of penance with great zeal.
Angel with the Gospel: Predication.
St. Filippo Benizi (1233–1285):Considered the eighth founder of the Order, he was born the day on which the Order was founded, according to tradition. He quickly became Prior General. The papal tiara at his feet recalls the conclave of 1268–1271 during which Benizi was offered the papacy. He refused and hid in a cave for three months. His preaching helped attract many new members.
Nincheri also depicted Benizi in a window found at St. Anthony of Padua, the Italian church in Ottawa.
Angel with cross and palm frond: Sacrifice and glory.
Blessed Bonaventura Tornielli (1411–1491): Known for being an excellent orator who preached the Word of God, particularly the theme of penitence.
Angel with baptismal font: The entry into the Christian community.
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