I mentioned on Friday that I ended up at a funeral this week and learned something surprising about one of my favorite religious paintings, The Madonna of the Streets. By the way, before you start to think I’m pretty hard-hearted to have been paying more attention to the program than to the funeral Mass itself let me explain that I’d showed up expecting a regular weekday Mass. The church I attend does funerals during normal Mass times, not separately, so I never know when I’m going to end up at a stranger’s funeral. Anyway, the woman being laid to rest that day had kept a copy of The Madonna of the Streets over her piano for many years, and here’s the story that goes along with it. Bear with me, because it’s fascinating.
Sr. Angela Marie, christened Mary, spent most of her life in foster homes with little knowledge of her birth family. She became a nun in the Order of St. Joseph of Carondelet and taught in parish schools for thirty years, but she always wanted to know more about her family of origin. She eventually, with a researcher’s help, found out that she was the seventh of ten children born to Angelina and Antonio Bovo, who had immigrated to California from Venice, Italy shortly after they were married. Her father made an excellent living crafting terrazzo marble, but died of the flu in 1929. Angelina had a nervous breakdown and all ten of her children, the youngest only six months old, were placed in foster homes. She spent the rest of her life in a mental institution.
Sr. Angela Marie also discovered two of her mother’s sisters were still alive and living in Venice. She went to visit them, and they showed her a small picture, familiar to Sr. Angela Marie by its more common name “The Madonna of the Streets”. Her aunts explained that this was an image of her mother at age eleven, holding her baby brother on the cold winter streets of Venice, captured by the young Roberto Ferrucci. The original painting’s whereabouts are not known, but it is one of the most famous religious images, showing up on icons, holy cards, and Christmas cards all over the world.
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