The Sienese devotion to the Madonna has a long and fascinating history…
You may be surprised to learn that in Siena, a city known for its medieval excellence, you can also come across masterpieces of Baroque architecture and sculpture. One of these treasures is kept inside the cathedral to the right of the dome above the nave.
Walk a few metres to find the Chapel of the Vow, one of the most fervent testimonies of the Sienese faith, erected at the behest of Pope Alexander VII Chigi in 1660 and designed by Benedetto Giovanni Orlandi.
Inside the chapel is the so-called Madonna of the Vow, painted by Dietisalvi di Speme in tempera and gold in 1267. For centuries, the Sienese have turned to this effigy in times of difficulty, both personal and collective. Many say that the Sienese people vowed in front of this painting to consecrate themselves to Mary before the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, which ended with the Sienese victory over the Florentine troops.
In reality, the solemn vow took place in front of another panel, that of the Madonna of Large Eyes, painted by Maestro di Tressa around 1225 and now housed in the Opera del Duomo Museum. Meanwhile, the Madonna of the Vow was commissioned around 1270 from Dietisalve di Speme after the Battle of Montaperti to thank Mary for the victory.
Since then, the image of the Madonna of the Vow has become the city’s main and most venerated Marian icon and was given the title Advocata Senensium.
Over the centuries, the Madonna of the Vow has continued to be a point of reference for Sienese devotion. The city turned to her during the terrible plague of 1348 and again in June 1944 when in the middle of World War II the keys to the city were offered to her at the end of a touching ceremony attended by all the civil and neighbourhood authorities.
In 2020, the keys of the city were once again offered to the Madonna to invoke her help during the Covid19 pandemic. More recently, the vow was renewed on 15 March this year, when the Mayor and the Archbishop of Siena asked for the Virgin’s intervention to stop the war that broke out in Ukraine.
Where: inside Siena Cathedral
When: it can be visisted during Cathedral opening hours | https://operaduomo.siena.it/it/visita/ingressi/