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According to legend, some time in the 16th century, Mary appeared to a young shepherdess on the exact spot where the church now stands, asking her to urgethe people of San Quirico to go to a particular workshop in Florence, where they would find the statue to be placed in the church of Vitaleta.
Thus, helped by the generosity of the local population, the devout people of San Quirico went to the workshop, owned by the famous Florentine Della Robbia family, and bought a beautiful glazed ceramic Madonna by Andrea Della Robbia. So, between the end of the 16th century and the first part of the 17th, they built a church worthy of this beautiful white statue at Vitaleta, on the border between San Quirico and Pienza. Many miracles were attributed to the sacred image over the years, as local historians tell us.
The story of the Madonna di Vitaleta began here.

Madonna di Vitaleta

The statue of the Madonna di Vitaleta was moved several times to the Parish Church of Saints Quirico and Giulitta, which later, in 1648, was elevated to collegiate status. The same year, at the express behest of the grand duke Ferdinand II de’ Medici, the Chapel of Vitaleta, with the Madonna simultaneously venerated and contended for by the people of San Quirico and Pienza, was definitively assigned to San Quirico, and more precisely to the collegiate church’s first canonry.
People prayed to the Madonna every time there was a famine, a plague or an earthquake and, in 1822, the statute was even taken in procession to Siena and was put on display in the city’s cathedral. From then on, she was moved back and forth to San Quirico, until the ancient chapel fell into such bad repair that, in 1861, it was decided that she would remain in the Collegiate Church of San Quiricountil the former convent of St Francis was suitably restored and renovated. The convent, located on the main town square, had belonged to the Friars Minor, but was later dissolved by the grand duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo.
In 1870, the Della Robbia statue was given its permanent home in the former convent, which was renamed the Church of Maria SS. di Vitaleta in her honour.


The conservative restoration has imbued a new soul into this very unique and poetic place; the chapel is now totally safe and can be visited once again. The external and internal restoration has retained all the chapel’s pure simplicity, and was carried out with the professionalism and commitment of Studio di Architettura Zambelli, and Marziali, a company specialised in restoration, always under the oversight of the Superintendency of Siena. Then ancient candelabras and the wooden tabernacle were also meticulously restored.



The chapel today belongs to Pasquale Forte, a visionary entrepreneur who, in the mid 1990s, created Podere Forte, an organic and biodynamic company, and the centre of the careful recovery of farming and winemaking traditions in Val d’Orcia. Intimately connected to this land and to the Madonna di Vitaleta, Pasquale Forte, was the driving force behind the chapel’s revival, to return it to its original sense of reverence and devoutness and to bring back its beauty, through a sympathetic, respectful and sustainable restoration.

Texts and photographs taken from the book “Vitaleta” by Ugo Sani, 2021


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