Our Lady of the Well: ‘Lourdes of Rome’
In the year of 1256 a miracle occurred at the place of the beautiful and simple church of Santa Maria in Via which stands at the beginning of Via del Tritone in an oasis of peace in the turbulent heart of the city. The church’s historical importance as a centre for Marial devotion is linked to the shrine of Our Lady of the Well (Madonna del Pozzo). It is an ancient foundation mentioned in a Bull of Pope Agapitus II dated 995.
Since 1256 countless people have made the pilgrimage to the shrine and some have called it a Little Lourdes in the heart of Rome. Water has filtered through to the well for thousands of years said to come from the ground, not an aqueduct. It is recommended by some to be drunk only by the faithful. To this day the faithful drink devoutly from the well and bring its water to sick relatives and friends in the hope of a cure.
The first church was built between by order of Pope Innocent VII. It became a parish in 1494. Rebuilt in the thirteenth century it has undergone architectural changes and extensive renovation, the most recent facade dating from 1590-1670. Since the grant of Pope Leo X in 1513, the church is served by the friar Servants of Mary, a Servite Order founded in the middle of the thirteenth century.
Our Lady of the Well
On the night of 26 September 1256 the waters of the well which was originally placed in the stables attached to the house of Cardinal Pietro Capocci began to overflow threatening to flood the stable. It caused the horses to panic and wakened the grooms who were anxious to see what had happened. The water was several inches higher than the rim of the well and natural curiosity led them to investigate further. The image of Mary on a tile or slate fragment had floated to the surface disappearing when they tried to retrieve it.
Cardinal Capocci was alerted and in his cardinal robes descended into the stable along with his full noble court. He said a brief and fervent prayer to the Virgin and without hesitation waded into the water. He was able to recover the blessed picture of Mary without difficulty and the water of the well receded to its natural level. His servants and family then carried the miraculous image to the Cardinal’s rooms and remained the whole night long in prayer before the picture.
The following morning the Cardinal went to the Pontiff to tell him what had happened in his house. He asked the Pope to approve his plan of converting the stable into a shrine dedicated to Our Lady. The Holy Father ordered that first a judicial investigation should take place. All those who witnessed the miracle were subjected to a rigorous interrogation. Once satisfied with the truth of the account the Pope not only approved the Cardinal’s project but ordered that there should be a solemn procession of all the clergy and that he himself would take part, and that the miraculous image should be solemnly installed in a shrine not far from the well where the miracle had taken place.
Popes through time, including Jean Paul II, have venerated the Madonna in recognition of the miracle declared by Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261). He ordered the construction of a chapel at the place of the well where drinking water continues to flow. The Pozzo chapel is to the right of the church entrance with the well in view for those wishing to partake of the miracle water watched by the Madonna del Pozzo. It is the work of an artist of the Roman School in the XIII century and has frequently been touched up. It was solemnly crowned by the canons of the Vatican Chapter and framed in polychrome marble.
Amongst other features of the chapel is a large painting of Cardinal Pietro Capocci surrounded by his retinue retrieving the image of the Blessed Virgin from the waters of the well. A note in the archives of the priory indicates the painting was done by a Venetian artist commissioned by Cardinal Carolo Carafa, the younger. Santa Maria in Via became his titular church in 1675.
‘Lourdes of Rome’
The feast of Madonna del Pozzo is celebrated on 8 September, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin. A night vigil takes place on 26 September for the anniversary of the Our Lady of the Well. It draws large crowds of fervent pilgrims from local and surrounding regions. A card with an image of Madonna del Pozzo gives a short account of the miracle and has a prayer of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in this text. It follows a visit to Rome, to the church of Santa Maria and drinking from a cup at The Miraculous Well (June 2012).