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Altarpiece dedicated to San Rocco

The Oratory of the Santissima Annunziata (Our Lady of the Assumption) in Rubiera has an altar and altarpiece dedicated to San Rocco, the 14th-century saint believed to provide protection from the plague.

via Emilia Est

42048 Rubiera


The foot of the altar bears the effigy of the Commune or “Fort”, the old military building which characterised the town of Rubiera until the end of the 19th century. The altarpiece painting depicts a powerfully built San Rocco struck by the plague and resting briefly from his wanderings. His glance is meaningfully turned toward “the treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). According to tradition, on being orphaned while still young, Rocco left his considerable wealth to the poor and became a pilgrim bound for Rome. In the painting, the saint is helping himself along with the typical wayfarer’s stick and, in line with well-established popular beliefs, is assisted by the faithful dog that brought him bread throughout his illness. The impressive-sized painting (200x150 cm) was commissioned by the Community of Rubiera and located inside the Oratory of the Santissima Annunziata around 1730. To this date, the documents consulted have not revealed the name of the author, though he seems to have been influenced by the school of Guercino.

In Rubiera, as in many other towns, the cult of San Rocco as the protector from contagious disease and, in the countryside, from cattle illnesses and natural disasters, spread rapidly from the 15th century. At the first warnings of the plague in 1630, the community of Rubiera immediately took measures for health protection. “There being suspicions of plague, it was proposed to apply to His Divine Majesty for a general procession to be held, inviting all our friars, priests, and Hospice staff. Let Mass services be celebrated invoking San Rocco and Saint Sebastian, to be held in the Church of the Annonciata and as the landlords think fit...” (Modena State Archive).
Rubiera was spared from the contagion and “having escaped from the plague as if by miracle, the Municipality introduced the holiday dedicated to San Rocco as a gesture of thanksgiving” (Romoli). A short while later, the municipality commissioned a painting to be placed in the old church of the Annunziata (Our Lady of the Assumption), now a parish church. In 1706, Bishop Picardi thought the altarpiece looked damaged to the eyes of visitors and ordered its restoration, whereupon that particular painting disappeared without trace. In 1730, after the current church of the Annunziata was constructed (1710 –1713), true to its vow to San Rocco for being spared from the plague, the Community of Rubiera commissioned the present altarpiece, which was placed in its current location together with the stuccos and plaster ornaments in 1759.
For centuries now in Rubiera, the 16th August is a holiday dedicated to the saint, and Mass services are held in honour of “the vow to San Rocco”, “the Community” or “the Municipality”, to commemorate the town’s escape from the plague. The cult of San Rocco became so widespread that the saint also appears together with the Virgin Mary in the fresco by the main altar of the church.

How to get there:
Rubiera is 12 km from the Reggio Emilia exit of the A1 motorway – National Road 9, Via Emilia –, is located on the Via Emilia and has a Train Station.
By car: coming from Reggio Emilia on the Via Emilia as you approach the Rubiera town centre, turn right and then left to rejoin the Via Emilia Est.
By bus: at the end of the bus no. 2 line, take the Via Emilia in the direction of Modena (distance approx. 500 m).
From the train station: turn right toward the town centre into Largo Cairoli, then left on the Via Emilia in the direction of Modena (distance approx. 600 m).