The Edicola; from Deities to Newspapers

January 17, 2013 / Local Interest
Assisi, Umbria
Series of edicolae in Roman temple, Amman, Jordan..1st - ADIn the Greco-Roman ancient world – and even in ancient Egypt –  edicole flanked imposing city entrances or temples (or were located inside the temples), and held images of the divinita’ minori (minor deities); the major divinities merited the construction of entire temples.

From the Latin, aedicula, (diminutive of aedes, temple), an edicola was indeed a tempietto (mini-temple), often richly sculpted, incorporating a tympanum and often columns. Some edicole were carved right into the rock – limestone, sandstone or basalt – and others were constructed of individual sculpted pieces. Many were painted.

A maiolica image of St. Clare in an Assisi edicolaAs Roman deities gave way to Christianity, edicole too adapted. As of the 12th-century, the edicola sacra or edicola votiva was synonymous with tabernacolo eucaristico (a small votive chapel, built following a voto, or vow). Edicole became niches inside churches or along country roads, on facades of homes, over church doorways or flanking medieval city gates.

Nowadays, some roadside edicole mark an accident, either as a memorial to a deceased or as an ex-voto thanks for a recovery. One near our house commemorates an escape from a highway robber of the late 19th-century!

Often, clutches of chatting elderly women, arms linked, head out Assisi’s medieval gate to bring bouquets to a countryside Madonnina (little Madonna). Here in the Assisi area, edicole most often bear an image of la Madonna, though many shrines honor St. Francis or St. Clare or both. No matter: the Umbri refer to any edicola as “una Madonnina.

Assisi edicole images are frequently frescoed, sculpted or maiolica masterpieces, often adorned with votive candles or vases of fresh flowers.

The word edicola is now also used for newsstand kiosks, overflowing with newspapers, magazines, CD’s, phone cards, and even small toys. Many sell bus tickets as well. From Roman divinities to saints to the mass media, whether the enshrined objects are sacred or profane… the edicola remains.

A homemade edicola in an Assisi backstreet
A homemade edicola in an Assisi backstreet

Restored in 1976, with an image of a Raphael Madonna, early 16th-c

Detail of the Cannara edicola, with Raphael Madonna
Often an edicola will have votive lamps, a plaque with name of the -commitente-
Edicole are often on street corners
Many Assisi women walk to this edicola outside the walls, to leave flowers
San Francesco appears all over his town
Roadside edicola in thanks for deliverance from a bandit
Edicola flanks Roman city entrance of 2nd AD, Amman, Jordan
Edicole even sell an array of small toys

Cypress trees often surround edicole

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

30 Responses to “The Edicola; from Deities to Newspapers”

  1. Jon Gilloon

    For all you epicurian wannabes, this cookin tour is “off the charts”! Not only will you appreciate gnoshing the magnificent fare, but you will have the extra enjoyment of being the captain of your own ship- preparing, tasting, mixing, and ultimately serving your guests what will be the delight of the night.
    Anne makes everyone feel engaged, and I assure you, no one will be left out of the fun.
    Take it from someone “who has been there”, it’s an awesome experience…and you will get all the credit. Dive in!!

    Reply
  2. As always, Anne, your writings are so informative – I have always wondered about the edicole whenever I visit Italy and notice them in towns & along the road. Also, your photos are beautiful!

    Thank you, dear Anne

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  3. Melinda_49@hotmail.com

    As usual, there is always something new to learn from Anne. Both my husband and I have degrees in art and we spend lots of time preparing for our visits. Anne was by far the best guide we have had, blending past and present together in ways no book could come close to covering. I hope to see more articles from Ms. Robichaud.

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  4. Frank and Brit

    Thanks Annie for the notebook entry. We never would have guessed that the edicola down the street had such a important history.

    Frank and Brit

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  5. I have always lacked the word for these little gems. Edicola! That’s wonderful. The practice seems to have spread. Thanks Anne!

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  6. Dear Anne, great article. I always admired the edicole (glad I know the word for it now). At first I noticed them all over Siena, and was glad to find many in Assisi! I would try to stop by each edicola, noticing the artwork or displays, wondering what the stories were behind them. Amidst the daily life around town, it was a nice reminder to see these edicole of the Madonna and the Saints, grabbing my heart and my attention, reminding me of their presence.
    They are all so beautiful in their own unique way. Love the photos you posted.

    Your US tour is sounding amazing— hoping to join a cooking class!
    Buon Viaggio!

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  7. Anne,
    Loved your notebook article…..only wish I could start receiving my own version – still not getting them. The pictures and stories are great!

    I highly recommend Anne’s readers to participate or initiate a cooking session with Anne during her US tour – these dinners are always loads of fun and great eating!! I am so sorry that calendars didn’t mesh this year for me, but can possibly participate in someone else’s event in the DC area. A presto!

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  8. Anne, Just received your article and absolutely loved it. The images on the main site are incredible,love and devotion shine through with each image. Although i have not been to Italy yet your photos reminded me of my missionary journeys back in 1990 to South America. you have brought back some good memories. Thanks.

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  9. Nancy Mazza

    Hi Annie,

    Thanks. What a fun article. Like other commenters, I always wondered about the story behind those little shrines. Now I know. Love the photos.
    Can’t wait to see you in SF on your annual cooking tour. It’s a treat we all look forward to, whether you are cooking or lecturing. I still remember the talk you gave at the Metropolitan Club on hand gestures. Very funny, but important.

    Nancy Mazza, SF

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  10. William Strangio

    An enjoyable article. It points out the fact that there are so
    many “interesting things to see in Italy, Just down the road, around the next corner!! Besides the relics, ruins, and churches,
    bridges, trails, etc. As pointed out they are all over the country. Just viewing the hilltop towns is wnderful. The thing is that they look like they grew there (like mushrooms) and
    are “natural”. Since most were made for defensive purposes its
    amazing how they have weathered the centuries.

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  11. Mary Cappiello

    Anne—

    Have always noticed these edicole when traveling around Italy. I’m happy to know what they’re called. They always make me wonder who put them there and what or who it was they were praying for or honoring. They seem like gentle reminders of loved ones gone from us, or yellow caution signs to remind us to take a moment to slow down and be grateful for whom and what we have in our lives.

    Am so glad you are doing your US tour again this year. Every time I attend one of your lectures or cooking classes I come away happy and full, and are so glad to have been able to participate again.

    Loved your photos accompanying your article, yet again! They add so much!

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  12. Thank you Anne for enlightening me (and I’m sure others) on what these little niches around Italy represent. I actually keep an eye out for them whenever in Italy. Some of them are just beautiful, even the little ones you may see on the corner of a street. If I am not mistaken, every morning I walked past the one of the Madonna & Child (in the circle) when I was in staying in Cannara. Looking forward to finding more when I am back in Assisi this July.

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  13. WHO knew! Fascinating…..
    All of us who travel the Italian city streets and country roads are familiar with these little shrines. Now we know the history….thank you, Anne.

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  14. Hi Anne
    I enjoyed this article on the “edicole” and I have personally seen several of them. Good luck on your cooking tour of the USA. You will impress your audience with your knowledge and spirit of Umbrian culture and cooking that we have enjoyed. Hope to see you soon!
    Janet and Cathie

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  15. J. Kevin Crocker

    Wonderful Annie. I recall now the one on the way to your house. I must have passed it dozens of times walking back and forth to Assisi. Again, love reading your stories. Can wait to see you and Pino in May.

    kevin

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  16. Janet Eidem

    Thanks for another gem Anne. We who can’t be there as much as we would like are fed by your sharings! We’ll see you in the Fall if all goes as desired.

    Reply
  17. Carol Ruggeri Grguric

    Wow! We were in Sicilia in November and saw LOTS of “edicola” and now, thanks to a wonderful, informative article, understand what they are and why. Thanks so much for the article!

    Carol

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  18. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Anne! LOVE is the word! Love your article and for the reminder of LOVE and devotion. I am wondering how to make a little edicola here on my little tight gray Cambridge street to “love it up” a bit- the back entrance leads to gardens and flourish but the front road is just plain cold. am thinking of how to inspire my neighbors!! Many thanks.

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  19. Hi Anne, Greetings from Texas! Really enjoyed and appreciated your informative article about the history of edicole.

    We loved our tour of Assisi with you and the amazing meal in your home was the highlight of our month in Italy. And we are looking forward, with great anticipation, to our cooking class with you in Dallas in March!

    See you soon, Linda and John

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  20. Elaine Marone

    Have spotted many of these niches along the streets and roads of Italy’s towns and cities and along remote footpaths giving us a moment to reflect on these public expressions of simple faith and thanksgiving, likely a practice the world over for many religions – a universal connection to ponder. Anne, thank you for the knowledge you share with us. Interesting how the meaning of edicola now includes the commercial kiosks. Does that reflect a younger generation moving more from the spiritual to the material? Are all the depicted images found in Assisi?

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  21. Angela Melczer

    Bellisimo! Love the photos and the information…reminds me how special Assisi is!

    Reply
  22. sheri zweig

    just like being on tour with you again!! soo very interesting.
    looking forward to your US visit.

    Reply
  23. I walked around the Euganean Hills last year, often from one edicola to another. I felt like I was being passed for safekeeping from Madonna to Jesus to San Antonio to San Francesco, it was a lovely feeling.

    Reply
  24. betty bruynell

    Anne,
    We so enjoy reading your articles. Such beautiful pictures! We look forward to seeing you at your Umbrian cooking class in Millis, Ma.
    Betty

    Reply
  25. Suzanne and Jack

    Thank you for another informative article. So good to now know the origin and the name of the edicole.
    I really like the images – not only reminds us of our fabulous tours with you in Umbria in 2011 but heightens our anticipation of meeting you again in April.

    Reply

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