The Miraculous Bambino Gesu
The worship of the Divine Child is very common in Italy. It was introduced by Saint Antonio who is often depicted with the Infant God in his arms. One of the most famous and venerated Christ Childs is hosted by the Basilica Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is located on the Capitol Hill next to the palaces of the Capitol. Its main facade looks at the Aracoeli Square. And this is one of the most beautiful views in Rome. 124 steep marble steps lead to the basilica and if one climbs them on one’s knees, all sins will be absolved.
The church was built on the basis of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Juno Moneta. There is a very beautiful legend about the founding of the basilica. One day the Emperor Augustus came for the prediction to the Tiburtine Sibyl, who dwelled on the Capitol Hill. After three days of fasting, she made her prophecy: “I see clear signs that justice will be done …. Soon from the sky will descend the King of ages.” As she spoke, the Emperor had a vision of a Virgin standing on an altar in dazzling light and holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Then he heard a voice that said “This is the altar of the first-born Son of God.”Upon hearing these words, the Emperor paid homage and lay prostrate before this marvellous vision. He ordered to erect an imperial altar on that very site. It was called the Ara Coeli – the Altar of the Heavens, dedicated to the future Infant-God prophesied to be born during the reign of Augustus.
The church has a classic basilica planning and is divided by 22 ancient columns into a nave and two aisles. These columns are all different since they were taken from various ancient Roman monuments. The church contains a great collection of stunning masterpieces: such as the richly embellished lacunar ceiling and the wonderfully ornate floor in the Cosmatesco style. Also not to be missed the Cappella Bufalini, with frescos by Pinturicchio and the tombstone of Giovanni Crivelli by Donatello.
The basilica resembles a magic chest of gems. A fanciful fusion of epochs and styles, endless collection of masterpieces and relics enables each visitor to find exactly what he needs most of all. I want to dedicate my post to the most touching treasure of the basilica – the Bambino Gesu.
The wooden statue of the infant Jesus (Santo Bambino) was carved in the 15th century of olive wood coming from the Gethsemane garden. A legend states that the statue was cut by angels. Many people of Rome believed in the power of this statue. Miraculous healing properties has been attributed to the Bambino Gesu for many ages. Until recently the Bambino went in a special fancy stretcher to visit terminally ill people several times a day. In gratitude for his healing miracles the Roman people generously donated precious gifts to the Bambino. His dress from top to bottom is embroidered with gold and precious stones. In his turn, in time of natural disasters, epidemics or starvation the Bambino, generously donated the jewelry to help the needy.
The original statue was stolen in February 1994, and never recovered. Nowadays, a copy also carved of a Gethsemane olive and covered with valuables ex-voto is present in the church. It is housed in its own chapel by the sacristy.
You can observe the Santo Bambino for a short period from Christmas to Epiphany in the Nativity chapel. At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the Santo Bambino is brought from his private chapel to a ceremonial baroque throne before the high altar. When the Gloria is sung, the veil is taken away, and the statue is processed to his special Chapel of the Nativity in the left nave.
Charles Dickens in “Pictures from Italy” and Henry Morton in “Walks in Rome” wrote rather ironically about Bambino’s appearance and healing abilities. But I was greatly impressed and touched by the Divine Child. The Bambino does not look as a canonical chubby baby, quietly sitting on the lap of the Virgin Mary. His dark eyes stared intently and subtly right into my soul.
The nativity scene in Santa Maria in Aracoeli is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. The nativity was harmoniously inserted in the chapel’s interior. At the heart of the nativity scene was the miraculous Bambino, who did not lie in the cradle, as usual, but stood in full growth. On his head was a shining jewel crown and his was dressed in a garment with an embroidered monogram GHS – Jesus Christ our Savior. The Virgin Mary dressed in white and blue robes leaned to him with affection and awe. St. Joseph stood behind the cradle. They were surrounded by shepherds and animals (bull, donkey, sheep). A cloud with a host of angels hung above the whole stage and the hovering God the Father was sending his blessing to the infant Jesus. All this grandeur and splendor was crowned with a patterned dome of the chapel.