The Sanctuary is situated on the slopes of the hill where castle Mongiovino stands, not far from Tavernelle.
It is a typical Marian sanctuary built in the wake of the popular devotion that swept Christian Europe in the last centuries of the medieval period. Mongiovino’s Marian devotion dates back to an episode from the early XVI century.
On 4 June 1513 the bishop of Chiusi conceded the right of patronage over an oratory, which was being built in honour of a Madonna in Majesty painting, to the inhabitants of the castle, as well as allowing them to administer the offerings that were donated by “an incredible and admirable crowd of people who were drawn here as devout pilgrims”.
Five months later Pope Leo X gave his blessing to the prodigious crowds, and work was started on a large church in 1524. Legend has it that it was designed by Donato Bramante da Urbino, but a series of payments registered in the years 1525-26 confirm that the project was overseen by Rocco da Vicenza, an architect and stonemason from Vicenza who had already been working in Umbria for a few years. He was responsible for the particular design: a large square block with a protruding apse, surmounted by a central dome, with four façades complete with horizontal gables with rose windows.
It was completed within a few years. The date 1525 can be read in the sculpted decorations of the Madonna chapel, and documents record that the dome was finished and painted in 1528. In 1533 the two symmetrical entrances that open onto the north and south side were decorated by stonemasons from Veneto and Tuscany. The frescoes in the lunettes are by Orsino di Antonio Carota from Perugia (1578).
The Madonna di Mongiovino sanctuary houses the most important late XVI century fresco in the region, the greater part of which is the work of painters summoned from Tuscany, the Marches and the Low Countries.
The church has a square layout with an inscribed Greek cross. The central hall has a dome on a tall drum resting on four pillars; on the ceiling there is a Coronation of the Virgin by Mattia Batini from Città di Castello (1709).
The entrance to the Madonna chapel is on the eastern side. The chapel houses the Marian shrine that inspired the construction of the sanctuary. The façade on this side is in two layers of pietra serena stone, decorated with three terracotta statues by Valentino Martelli from Perugia depicting the Transfiguration of Christ between the prophets Moses and Elijah (1579-80). The interior of the chapel is entirely decorated with episodes from the life of the Virgin, painted by Giovanni Wraghe di Anversa (1567) and Nicolò Circignani da Pomarance (1569). The Crucifixion on the counter-façade is by Hendrick van den Broeck da Malines (1588).
Giovanni Battista Lombardelli decorated the choir at the back with the miracles of the Madonna of Mongiovino (1587).
There are four chapels in the corners, each with their own small domes decorated with angel musicians. The Madonna of the Rosary chapel was initially decorated by Orazio Alfani from Perugia (1552); the altar was repainted by Antonio Castelletti da Paciano in 1810. The Deposition altar was decorated by Hendrick van den Broeck da Malines (1564), the Resurrection altar by Nicolò Circignani known as il Pomarancio (1569) and the Ascension altar by Hendrick van den Broeck da Malines (1585-86).
The Tuscan Salvio Savini decorated the two niches on the sides of the organ (1590), one of which houses a sculpture depicting the Crucifixion by Giovanni Andrea Patrizi from Perugia (1590).
Unknown XIV century Umbrian painter
The painting that inspired the construction of the Mongiovino sanctuary is held in an isolated altar shaped like a small temple situated at the centre of the Madonna chapel.
The fresco, depicting a Throned Madonna with Child between four angels, was painted by an Umbrian painter around the middle of the XIV century. Rocco da Vicenza finished work on the chapel in 1525, as can be read on the candelabra on one of the pillars. The stone altar dates back to the same period, including the figure of the Eternal Father painted in the lunette above the Madonna in Majesty.
Legend tells of a shepherd girl called Andreana, who heard a voice emanating from a shrine built to house a religious painting near a spring. The Madonna implored her to tell the inhabitants of Mongiovino castle to clear the undergrowth from around the shrine and venerate it once more. Nobody believed the young girl at first, but she persisted in her tale. One day, while she was gathering water from the spring the Virgin spoke to her again, telling her to return to the castle carrying the full pitcher upside down on her head. On witnessing this miracle, the people of Mongiovino immediately set about clearing the undergrowth and stones from the shrine.
Giovanni Battista Lombardelli decorated the choir stalls behind the altar with other miracles attributed to the painting (1587). The first episode tells of a veil that an altar boy had donated to the Madonna in Majesty as thanks for receiving grace. A priest from Mogliano took the veil to San Martino church for safekeeping, but it returned to where the altar boy had originally placed it. The second picture tells of how the priest ordered his parishioners to clear the land around the shrine, and to fast for three days with only bread and water. The third depicts the men of Mongiovino busy cutting away the undergrowth and carrying away the stones from around the Madonna in Majesty. The fourth relates how the workers were so satiated by their bread and water fast that there was even bread left over.