The Madonna del Parto is a small church near the Roman Amphitheater of Sutri. Probably this church used to be a Mithraeum within an Etruscan cemetery.
Madonna del Parto Church Sutri
ADdress and opening hours
Address: Via Cassia al km 49 01015 Sutri. Phone: +39 0761609380. Opening hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 09.00 till 18.00 uur. Closed: Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Admission: Free.
History and description
The Madonna del Parto Church was in all probability originally a mithraeum from the 3rd century. A mithraeum was a temple dedicated to the Eastern God Mitras. One of the most famous examples is the one underneath the San Clemente Basilica in Rome. Like the ancient sanctuary, the church was excavated into the tuff rock.
The original structure consisted of a frescoed square auditorium and a central section in a partially artificially created cave. The latter was divided by tuff pillars into three naves.
The right nave has a number of niches, while the left nave is characterized by five small windows. The space to the left of the altar is the sagristy. Behind this altar is an arcosolium (a niche tomb under an arch).
The apse was created to turn the mithraeum into a church.
The Christian church was originally dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo. Only later was the name changed to Chiesa della Madonna del Parto.
What to see
The decorations are of a Christian nature and refer to Christ, Mary, the Archangel Michael and pilgrims, among others.
The Archangel Michael
On the vault of the central nave, the Archangel can be seen holding a globe and a scepter. His face is depicted in relief.
The face of the angel can also be seen on the second pillar of the left nave.
The best preserved image is that on a fresco in the vestibule. The central part of this painting dates from the early 14th century. The image shows the appearance of the archangel on Monte Sant’Angelo in Apulia. When a shepherd failed to free a bull from a cave, he shot an arrow at the beast. However, the arrow turned right around and wounded the shepherd. Later, Michael appeared to the bishop to say that the cave was under his protection. The bishop then had a church built on this cave. Saint Christopher, also depicted, is the patron saint of pilgrims.
The Madonna of the Conception
The walls of the church are covered with effigies of kneeling, supplicating Madonnas. This is related to the traditional belief that the Archangel Michael can cure sterility.
The “Madonna del Parto” painting can be seen in the apse. She is depicted with Joseph, the ox, the donkey and the shepherds and their sheep. It was moved to the apse after the 1737 earthquake caused the original entrance to collapse.
The “Madonna and Child” on the eighth pillar on the right depicts Jesus with a little bird and the cross of the order of the Temple Sisters.
The first pillar on the right depicts Santa Catarina of Alexandria.