In Italy, the construction of little niches with images of the saints or of the holy Mary for public devotion has a very ancient tradition.

Old records tell us that on 29 April 1596 a deaf-mute boy named Marchino was praying in front of one of this images, a fresco painting representing the Virgin Mary and the Child, when he was miraculously healed.

9aOn the very spot where this prodigy took place, just on the side of the old Crostolo river bed from which comes the name Ghiara (“gravel”), the construction of a great church was started in 1597, in order to thank the Virgin for the miraculous blessing and to welcome the crowds of pilgrims devoted to the image of the Madonna of Reggio that started flowing into the city. From May 1601 the Community instituted a special fair, one of the most important of the region; it was stopped and then reinstated some decades ago and is now celebrated in September.

The importance of this beautiful Basilica comes from its being one of the most interesting examples of Baroque architecture in Italy, decorated by the best Emilian artists of the 17th century: Alessandro Tiarini, Lelio Orsi, Ludovico Carracci, the famous “Crucifixion” by Guercino, Luca Ferrari, Lionello Spada…  and of course the famous fresco of the “Blessed Mother of the Ghiara” painted by Bertone, inspired by a drawing of Lelio Orsi.

Linked to the sanctuary there is the convent of Mary’s Servant friar order, with two nice cloisters – the largest one hosts a youth hostel – that house in the ground floor the Museum and Treasure of the Ghiara Basilica: silverware, fabrics, ex-votoes, a crown donated to the Virgin by the Community of Reggio for celebrating the end of the plague in 1674, some remarkable paintings and the original drawing of the Madonna della Ghiara by Lelio Orsi are all part of the valuable treasure saved by the friars when Napoleon started to plunder the city’s works of art.