Saint Mary Major’s Church in Vasto -CH-

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Saint Mary Major’s Church in Vasto (CH)

      The church is dedicated to the Madonna and its origins date back to the XII century. The Relic of the Holy Thorn, which was part of the crown of thorns that pierced Jesus’ head, is kept here. The pontiff Pius IV delivered it as a gift to the marquis of Vasto Ferdinand Francis d’Avalos since he was a delegate of the king Philip II at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). In 1645 the church was devastated by a fire but a Turkish slave drew it to safety and, for such a heroic deed, he was set free. This event is recalled in one of the large oil paintings located on the vault by Andrew Marchesani in 1857. The precious Relic is particularly venerated on Friday before Holy Week and it is much beloved to Vastesi who celebrate it with solemn rites and religious songs. It is exposed to the cult inside of a peculiar jar shaped reliquary at the end of the right aisle. The Holy Thorn Chapel was projected by the architect Robert Benedetti in 1890 and restored later on. In front of this, there is the pilaster with a niche closed by two bronze shutters which the marquis Diego d’Avalos ordered to build in 1647 with the aim of protecting it. The Holy Thorn has been in perennial ostension since the Jubilee year 2000 so that all pilgrims are allowed to see and venerate it when they visit this church.

Ancient tablets and a sepulchral epigraph, which reminds the presence of the d’Avalos marquises at the government of the town from the XV to the XVIII century, are placed nearby. Furthermore, there are two pictures depicting “The Childhood of Mary” and “Madonna of the Suffrages” by Marchesani with a wooden statue of St. Clare by a remote Neapolitan School.


      Along the wide nave, statues of the Apostles and of the Saints rise: St. James the Older, St. Philip, St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John Evangelist, St. Judah Thaddeus, St. James the Younger, St. Thomas. An ancient Marian antiphon was reported across the perimetrical frieze in gold letters and written in Latin, the translation of which asserts: “Mary is Assumpted in Heaven. Let us go with trust to the Throne of Grace and obtain Mercy and find Grace at the opportune moment”. Upward, there is a walnut Pulpit by the Vastese ebonist Angel Raspa of 1908.


      At the bottom, Dome and Presbytery stand up adorned, as well as all the rest, by the Vastesi painters and decorators Louis Palucci and the brothers Michael and Alphonso Roserba with pure gold and handmade stuccos.

On the greatest Altar, we can observe wooden Choir stalls and an organ by Dominic Mangino of 1719.


      In the apse, valve shaped banisters are clearly visible and they lead to the crypt where the prodigiously preserved body of the martyr St. Caesareus is kept. He is dressed in warrior clothes and He holds a glassy ampulla which contains His blood. Sources state that He was in the emperor Diocletian’s service and that He was condemned by the latter to be buried alive because He did not want to abjure His own Christian faith. His body was donated to the church by Caesar Michaelangel d’Avalos on November 3rd, 1695. The Saint is therefore celebrated on that day of the year.


      Close to the left aisle, there is the Baptismal Font of 1572. Then, the Chapel dedicated to the Madonna of the Rosary of 1826 and one to the Sacred Heart of Jesus of 1864. We can also see pictures of considerable remark by the Venetian School of the XVI century: “The Baptism of St. Augustine”, on which appears a Latin inscription which indicates as its author Alvise Benfatto called the Frise, nephew and pupil of Paul Caliari called the Veronese;  “The Marriage of St. Catherine”, attributed exactly to the Veronese; “Ecce Homo” and “Madonna of the Banner” by Titian’s School. Others are added to these, such as a portrait of St. Philip Neri of the XVIII century.


      A bronze Portal with “Our Lady of the Assumption” by the Vastese sculptor Anthony Di Spalatro dominates the main front. The overhanging bell Tower, with the five Romanic windows, was elevated on a formerly existing bastion which was part of an ancient fort.



        Roberta Palucci

        in memory of her father Luigi