Assis's train station sign - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi

The sun was hot on our heads. We had been walking for an hour or so exploring the town of Assisi. Not sure how we ended up in this little street without any particular reasons.
When we are in a new place we don’t always follow maps or touristy paths, I am positive we are not the only ones who like to get lost it’s a great way to discover something not so obvious and that, even if not mentioned in travel guides or such things, might be liked and appreciated as well as the common and most highly rated ones.

Walking trough Assisi - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi
Vie of Assisi - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi

Dale was filling his bottle in one of the many fountains scattered everywhere (what else could we ask for? Fresh and drinkable water at any other corner.. bliss for a hot day like that one!). I noticed there was a little church (Church of Santa Maria delle Rose). I invited Dale to get inside to see if there were any pieces of art or architectural work that could please our tastes.

At this point you might think: ‘Why didn’t she go and check by herself? LAZY!’.

In reality that day my priority before setting off was only to stay as fresh as possible considering the high temperatures we were expecting, reason why I wasn’t wearing the right clothes to enter in sacred places, plus I forgot to get any scarves to cover my naked shoulders. So I wasn’t being lazy, only not very thoughtful (lesson learned anyway!)

Only a few minutes had passed by, when Dale came back out saying I was allowed in and I needed to go inside to check something quite unique.
No need to repeat that twice, I was already on my way in. He was right!
A different sight to what I was expecting opened to my eyes. The first thing that came in my mind was ‘That’s definitely an unusual church!’, only later we realized why.

Church of Santa Maria delle Rose-Assisi - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi

A different kind of art than what we are used to

Curiosity is beneath the skin of Dale & myself – especially when it comes to art – so we got closer to try to understand what was displayed in these glass columns arranged in a circle.
Analyzing each one, we managed to understand that there was the same piece of artwork displayed in each column, the only difference was that it was on show from different angles and perspectives and each was made from different woods (33 to be precise).
We must have looked REALLY puzzled because a kind lady came across to us asking if we needed any explanations about the exhibition. Without even seeking for each others approval first, we both accepted her offer, we both wanted to know and understand!
So we learned that it was a permanent installation of ‘MARIA’, a sculptural sacred artwork by the Italian Artist Guido Dettoni della Grazia.
Apparently this awesome artwork is described as ‘reawakening spirituality through the limitless language of art all around the world’, not just in Assisi.
Then something quite extraordinary happened to us: we were invited to touch, feel, and experience the sculptures with our hands, whilst music and fragrance filled in the background to enhance the whole experience.

How cool is that? Usually that is something strictly forbidden.

Permanent installation of 'MARIA' - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi
Statues of Maria - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi
One statue of Maria - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi

After, Dale described holding the piece as ‘unexpected but natural. Having the porcelain or wood figures between your hands, running your fingers along the natural grooves & gullies, seeing how the position of the piece between your hands could show you a pregnant Maria at one angle, Maria carrying water on the next; was perfectly thought out. Powerful, even for someone without faith’.

Again, thanks to this lady, we learned that it took 2 and an half years for the Italian artist to achieve the final shape of ‘MARIA’. Apparently he originally worked a piece of wax blind-folded to create something – a ‘spiritual instrument’ – that at the touch would evoke the image of the Virgin Mary.
Even the structure of each installation (there are a lot more around the world apart from that one in Assisi) is not a casual choice but has a meaning that is part of the all symbolic work.

We were quite surprised we didn’t find any indication along the street to lead people there, also there weren’t any references in the guides we read before getting to Assisi.
According to our special just-met guide, it was the artist’s choice not to advertise the exhibition too much as he would prefer it to be discovered, rather than to just be another commercial place to be ticked off your list of places to see.

Both me and Dale aren’t religious people and don’t believe in any faith, this though didn’t stop us to highly like and appreciate the artistic side of that exhibition and understand its meaning and message.
We came out the church astonished by that artwork, the idea behind it, the way it had been realized, the personal, and in a way brave decision of not to advertise it too much and both wishing to compliment the artist in person (which wasn’t possible he resides in Spain).

With that satisfied expression in our faces we carried on exploring Assisi both happy having discovered something that we couldn’t have known the existence of.

Street in Assisi - An Unexpected Surprise in Assisi

Have you ever been in a similar situation when you discovered something completely unexpected?