The story about the image of Our Lady of the Pillar took place at the beginning of the construction of the present Cathedral.
In St. Francis’s church (where the Cathedral had been placed by the papal bill of Pope Paul IV of 9th September 1556) there was an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the curved surface of a column: people of Savona were very devoted to the image, and they loved to stop before it praying with great devotion.
The image was known by the people as “the Virgin of the Pillar.”
When the demolition of the St. Francis’s church was decided, in order to make way for the new Cathedral (the current one), the big problem was not to mortify the devotional feelings of the people destroying the painted image; various ways to remove it without damaging it were studied, but the solutions proposed by artisans and technicians of the time, were not able to guarantee the success of the operation.
The chronicles and testimonies of the time (March 14, 1601, approximately noon) report a prodigious, that many quickly defined miraculous.
While some craftsmen were discussing how to remove the image, the pastor of the Cathedral (Don Giovanni Maria Lamberto), looking at the image of the Virgin, noticed that it was slowly sliding down, following the surface of the column on which it was painted. He instinctively rushed to the image in order to hold it so that it would not brake touching the ground.
Immediately he asked those present to help him protect the image. It was taken and immediately placed in the chapel of Sixtus IV, where it was placed at the bottom of the altar and then was brought over a church confessional, where a lot of people went to pray.
The event was certainly mysterious and providential: on the one hand it could be seen as a sign of appreciation for that choice, so bitterly contested by many, on the other hand it seemed to encourage the works on the new Cathedral.
The image (fresco) of Our Lady of the Pillar dates from the fourth decade of the ‘400.
It is disfigured by an insistent “pitting” that mutilated in some parts the pedestal and the Virgin’s mantle, discovering an underlying plaster layer, from which transpire some words written in Gothic from the fifteenth-century.
However difficult to read, given the scarcity of syllables and the obstacle posed by the support bracket, the Farris proposes the following hypothesis: “[di]vine aque [ductus]” “[ve]ritas domi[ni]”.
These words indicate some of the names given to the Virgin, and it would be the sign that an image is probably located below the current one.
If this supposition were shown to be real, not only would it be the foundation of a long tradition of Our Lady of the Pillar in the faith of the people of Savona, but it would also provide us with a symbolic key to the painting as we know it.
In fact, if the bird indicates the soul purified by grace which rises towards the sky, Maria would be exalted as a mediator of grace, “Divine Aqueductus”.
The book (from the position of the clips it is possible to deduce a parchment codex), would than indicate to all that Word (Veritas Domini) that Mary has deeply internalized and made it familiar in a lifetime.
We would therefore, be in front of the symbols that summarize a well – rooted Mariology in the Franciscan philosophy, for which the Virgin becomes the icon herself of their theological beliefs (so according to father Giovanni Farris, canon of the Cathedral of Savona).
AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.