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Madonnelle of Italy

My husband and I are history buffs through and through. When we travel, we always schedule a tour that gives a brief recount of historic events. Our most favorite tours are the city’s ghost tours. These tours give wonderful historical information with a macabre twist.

In July 2019, we scheduled a couple’s getaway to Rome, Italy. We booked tickets for the standard excursions to the Colosseum, Forum, and the Vatican, but I also booked us a nighttime, walking ghost tour around Rome. Our guide was personal and informative, and he just made the tour delightful.

Rome literally has ruins and artifacts everywhere you look! History just comes to life in this ancient city. Honestly, it is almost overwhelming to the senses. It was of no surprise we missed an interesting relic around the city seeing as how we were surrounded by so much. It was not until our tour guide pointed it out that my husband and I started noticing these little artifacts everywhere. These little relics are called “Madonnelles” or “miniature Madonnas.” Reportedly, there are over 500 of these in Rome today and the majority are dated from the 17th to the early 19th centuries (

Let us step back into the Medieval Ages and imagine the moon lit streets of Rome. Crime was running rampant in these darkened alleyways and hidden corners of the city. The Roman government was clever in their solution to combat the crime being committed within the city. Decorative and sometimes elaborately ornate paintings of the Virgin Mary were placed along the intersecting streets and lit by a blazing candle. Often, this was the only light along the street. Murderers, robbers, and prostitutes found it exceedingly difficult to commit their deeds while the Virgin Mary watched them from above the street. Our tour guide informed us the crime rate was significantly reduced after the “Madonnelles” were placed on the street corners. Arguably, the Roman government developed the first functional security system!!! (Dark Heart of Rome: Facts, Legend, and Mystery Walking Tour)

After the tour, my husband and I started looking up to see if we could spot the “Madonnelles” while we were walking around the city. We noticed they varied in size, shape, and ornateness. The placement was always the same, with the “Madonnelles” perched high along the sides of buildings. Most of them were still lit at night and shined like beacons for nighttime pedestrians. We did see a few that were not lit, but they were still placed beside a modern streetlamp.

The next time you are walking along the streets of Rome, look up! Take a moment to reflect on the inventiveness and the simplicity of Rome’s ancient safety measures.

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