Madonna del Bagni: A Sanctuary for Love and Healing

A little-known love story not only between a husband and wife, but between the Blessed Mother and her many grateful children.

Interior shot of Sanctuary of Madonna del Bagni or Madonna of the Bath.
Interior shot of Sanctuary of Madonna del Bagni or Madonna of the Bath. (photo: Courtesy photo / Teresa Tomeo )

Anyone who has ever visited European churches, especially churches in Italy, is familiar with the framed silver images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that are often found displayed on the walls of these holy places. In some of the churches or shrines, the walls are practically covered with them. But what some might not realize is that these images are meant as an offering of thanksgiving for prayers answered as well as a reminder to pilgrims and others going to Mass or visiting the churches not to lose hope and to always remember the goodness of God. It’s about expressing a strong attitude of gratitude. 

When my husband, Dominick, and I are not leading pilgrimages in Italy, the country of our ancestry, we spend a great deal of time in the central region of Umbria. This area is noted for shrines dedicated to some of the Catholic Church’s most prominent and popular saints, including St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, as well as Blessed Carlos Acutis and St. Rita of Cascia. St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica, although buried in southern Lazio, at Abbey of Monte Cassino, were born in the Umbrian town of Norcia. Umbria is also home to the stunning Etruscan town of Orvieto, which houses the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, the same miracle that led to the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. 

Needless to say, as Catholics who love to visit and pray at these sacred spaces, we have found that Umbria has a lot to offer. But we were not familiar with the Sanctuary of Madonna del Bagni or Madonna of the Bath. The roots of the name are unknown but what we do know is that you will discover, once you put Madonna of the Bath on your Italy pilgrimage itinerary, a beautiful sanctuary built around a love story. And it is a love story not only between a husband and wife, but between the Blessed Mother and her many grateful children. 

Tomeo shrine cropped
Teresa Tomeo and her husband, Deacon Dom, with Msgr. Chuck Kosanke from the Archdiocese of Detroit, just outside the shrine(Photo: Courtesy photo)

We would often see small signs mentioning Madonna del Bagni on the side of the autostrada, or highway, on the way to or from Assisi or Perugia, but  didn’t give the sight much thought — that was, until we were encouraged to visit it by one of our pilgrimage guides. So, this past November, after the conclusion of a recent tour, we decided to take the guide’s advice. Being that it is quite small compared to other well-known pilgrimage attractions, we didn’t know what to expect, but we soon learned it is indeed worth the visit. 

Madonna del Bagni is tucked away in the hills south of the lovely village of Deruta, famous for its incredible ceramics. The sanctuary was built in the 17th century not long after a miraculous event in the mid-1600s. According to tradition, a Franciscan priest found a broken fragment of pottery in the woods. The fragment was decorated with an image of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus. To protect the image, the priest decided to place the fragment in the branches of an oak tree. Eventually, it fell to the ground. It was a local merchant, Cristoforo di Filippo, while on his way to work in Deruta, who discovered the shard and decided to nail it to the tree for safe keeping. Little did that merchant know that he would, one day, just a few years later, return to that tree to ask for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, after his wife became extremely ill. When he arrived home, the very same day he prayed for his wife, he found that she had fully recovered. To express their gratitude, the couple then commissioned an artist in Deruta to create a ceramic plaque in honor of the healing. 

Shrine of Madonna del Bagni.
Shrine of Madonna del Bagni.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

And thus began the devotion to Madonna del Bagni. The same tile was placed behind the altar of the church with the oak tree and can still be seen today. But what makes this church so special is not just the story of the di Filippos and their tile, but the literally hundreds of other tiles covering the walls. Some 700 of them have been made with great detail over the centuries by the loving hands of Deruta-based ceramicists who were commissioned by the faithful who believe serious injuries were prevented or their very lives saved after asking for the intercession of the Madonna of the Bath. The plaques depict dramatic images of near-fatal calamities, such as coming dangerously close to being mauled or trampled by wild animals, or being saved from a car accident, an earthquake or a fire. As one visitor described it in a blog, it is as if you are visiting a gallery of human existence spread out over several hundred years. It’s humbling and extremely moving to see the gratitude of fellow believers depicted in such creative and colorful artistic expressions. 

Ceramic tiles tell of healing.
Ceramic tiles tell of healing.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

My husband and I were so touched by what we saw that we have decided to add Madonna del Bagni to our list of must-sees, along with the more well-known basilicas and cathedrals in Umbria. After all, aren’t the pages of both the Old and New Testaments filled with verses instructing and encouraging us to remember all the Lord has done and continues to do in our lives?

Blessed Solanus Casey, a much-loved Capuchin friar, who spent his last years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit, said, “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature; ingratitude leads to so many breaks with God and our neighbor.” 

One of hundreds of ceramic tiles that adorn the walls inside the sanctuary.
One of hundreds of ceramic tiles that adorn the walls inside the sanctuary.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why this area of Italy is so peaceful, as so many people continue to express their love story with God by giving thanks to him and our Blessed Mother with yet another tile on the walls of the Madonna del Bagni sanctuary. 

As we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, maybe we can make the world a little brighter by creating our own special expressions of gratitude. 

Madonna of the Bath, pray for us!

Ceramics are left in gratitude for prayers answered.
Ceramics are left in gratitude for prayers answered.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

Teresa Tomeo is an author, syndicated Catholic talk show host and motivational speaker. Catch her every weekday on EWTN Radio with her show, Catholic Connection