In Piazza del Campo, which is the centre of political power in Siena, there’s also a corner of faith and devotion…
A small white chapel stands out from the red bricks of the Palazzo Comunale, just below the Torre del Mangia tower. It emerges from the linear profile of the building that has housed the offices of Siena’s political authorities for centuries.
The Chapel is the result of a vow made by the Sienese during the terrible Black Death epidemic of 1348. Once the plague had passed, the Commune of Siena had it erected between 1352 and 1376 as thanks to the Virgin Mary for having escaped death.
At an early stage, the work on the Chapel was directed by Domenico di Agostino. The four pillars at the corners, known as ‘more’ were delayed in being erected, and were modified, perhaps even demolished, several times. They took the present form in 1376 under the direction of Giovanni di Cecco.
A simple canopy originally rested above them, as can also be seen in the painting by Sano di Pietro depicting the Preaching of St Bernardino, which was replaced during the Renaissance by Antonio Federighi with a vault with round arches and a classical-style entablature.
The pillars are decorated with marble statues of saints made by 14th-century Sienese artists and originally, above the altar, there was a fresco by Sodoma depicting the Madonna and Child with God the Father, the remains of which are now in the Civic Museum inside Palazzo Pubblico.
The chapel in Piazza del Campo is the backdrop of one of the most evocative moments of the Palio di Siena.On the morning of the Palio, the Jockey’s Mass is celebrated here, traditionally officiated by the Archbishop of Siena to bless the jockeys who will compete in the race. The Captains of the Contrade and civil and military institutions attend the event.
It is a truly evocative moment, with the neighbourhoods and jockeys gathered in prayer shortly after dawn, revealing the religious foundation of the Palio and the devotion of an entire city to the Virgin Mary, to whom the Palio is dedicated.
The chapel in Piazza del Campo was lit in blue and yellow in the spring of 2022, to show the solidarity and support of a whole city for the people of Ukraine affected by the tragedy of war. This gesture in some ways recalls the vow of faith that sanctioned the creation of the Chapel.
Where: Piazza del Campo
When: always visible wonder