The story goes that an icon depicting the Madonna during the various alterations of the church was lost. A blind man, coming from Briançon, arrived on a pilgrimage, claiming he had first received in a dream, and then in miraculous apparition near Pozzo Strada, west of Turin, the Madonna. The latter would have given precise indications regarding the recovery of the sacred image, in the basement of the ancient church of Sant’Andrea. After some insistence with the bishop’s authorities, the icon was found on June 20, 1104, while the blind man regained his sight. Following this miraculous event, the church was restored and raised to the rank of basilica.
The great devotion that binds the city to this sanctuary originates from this picture, of which a posthumous copy is still preserved within the current crypt of the sanctuary.
Let’s look at this picture of the Virgin with the Child, she can teach us a lot about devotion to Mary.
We know it is of oriental origin. Although it is a canvas, we see the characteristics of the icon, the typical artistic expression of the peoples of the East. For us, Westerners of the twenty-first century, the presentation of this Virgin with the Child needs explanation. Those of us, in fact, when they see the image of the Consolata for the first time, do not remain perplexed by this style of portraying Mary and Jesus.
The faces are most striking. We are used to contemplating Mary and Jesus in the beauty of their outward features. Here it is not so … here, to earn it, is the inner beauty. The face of Mary has a veil of sadness, under which there is hope. She bends her head slightly towards her Son, as if to present to him our difficulties. The right hand at the breast seems to tell us that it has made its own all the sufferings, the pains, the worries of its children who turn to you. And he presents these his sons to his Son. Jesus, on the other hand, flaunts a “senile” face. It was the way of the Orientals to say that in Jesus dwells wisdom.
Jesus, still, appears to us seated on his Mother’s left arm, and looks towards us. Mary, in turn, does not look directly at the Son, but presents it to the world. He guards it, but not for you. The only bond that unites Mother and Son is the left hand of Jesus, who simply rests on that of the Mother. With the right hand He blesses the world in the Eastern way: two fingers extended and three folded; the two natures of Christ, the three divine Persons.
Faithful to the inspiration of “iconic” art, this painting also respects its colors. The dark mantle of Mary, of an intense blue, expresses the glory of Her in Heaven: a robe of glory that envelops the whole body to sublimate and eclipse it, while with its golden edge expresses the participation of the Virgin to the glory of God. The red indicates the royalty: Mary Queen in Heaven, the pure red cloak of Jesus means that He possesses royalty by nature. The three stars on the mantle of the Virgin (one is hidden by the Child), express her triple virginity: before conception, during conception and after the birth of Jesus. Mary carries a ring on her finger. In the Old Testament it meant authority and power.
The portal pronaos bears the Latin inscription CONSOLATRIX AFFLICTORUM, or “comforter of the afflicted” and the real name of the church is in fact a sanctuary of Santa Maria della Consolazione. However, it has always been known as “Consolata”, instead of the more correct “Consolatrice”: almost as if it were Maria to be it and not you the consoler.
Early Christian origins (5th century)
The Consolata sanctuary has an ancient history. As can be clearly seen from the side close to the homonymous street, the basilica stands on the remains of one of the corner towers of the ancient city walls of the ancient Augusta Taurinorum. Here, in the fifth century, the bishop Maximus built a small church dedicated to Saint Andrew with a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, in which an image of the Madonna was placed, probably on the remains of a previous pagan temple.
The transformation into the abbey (eleventh century)
Shortly after the year one thousand, the church was the seat of the Novalicensi monks, veterans of the expulsion from the Valle di Susa by the Saracens. To them we owe the first enlargement that saw the construction of a new church in Romanesque style developed on three naves, with a cloister on the southern side and the bell tower, its only testimony to have come to our days, which is now deviated from the baroque body of the current building; such a mighty bell tower raised by the abbot Gezone of Breme by the monk architect Bruningo, as chronicled by the Chronicon Novalicense between 980 and 1014, is therefore «… the oldest architectural monument that can boast Turin after the remains of the Roman buildings» . Tradition has it that King Arduino contributed in his first enlargement in 1014,