Last monday we had a city holiday, it was our Patron Saint Day: we set or hopes on the shoulders of St. Hilary of Poitiers.
Hilary (Hilarius) of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” (Latin: Malleus Arianorum) and the “Athanasius of the West.” His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is 13 January. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January. Its election to Patron of Parma seems to be connected to the political circumstances between the XII and the XIII century that gave the physiognomy to the city as a Guelphs’ Common. In 1266 the Crusaders’ Society, a Guelphs faction of which St. Hilary was the Patron, conquered the city with the support of Charles of Angiò, so its Patron became also Patron of the Common.
In honor of St. Hilary it was erected a church on the street Emilia toward Piacenza, a bit out the boundaries, near it brings Saint Cross Gate. In 1546 the building was demolished by Pier Luigi Farnese to make room for the new defensive structures. The center of the devotion of the saint was transferred inside the boundaries, in the attached oratory of the hospital of the Mercy and the Esposti founded by Rodolfo Tanzi in 1201, that in those years duke Ranuccio II had renovated and widened, probably with works of the architects Marco Antonio Zucchi and Giovan Francesco Testi. Usually the Oratory is open just in the early hours of the morning for the prayers, but for the Patron Day is open all day long, so me and my daughter decided to have a look (last time for me was about 15 years ago, I guess…..)
The oratory actual structure is due to the works of renovation wanted in 1663 by the rector of the hospital, Francesco Roncaglia: of small dimensions, it is composed of three aisles articulated by section pillars squared and with grooved surfaces.
The frescos decorations, by Giovanni Maria Conti della Camera and realized between the August of 1663 and December 1666, cover the whole vault and the lunettes of the spans of the side aisles and are dedicated to the theme of helping the poors and the patients: here are represented in fact, the images of the protecting saints of the xenodochis who helped create the hospital of the Mercy (Vincent, Nicomede and Bovo) and those of numerous other saints and blessed traditionally invoked as thaumaturges (Cosma and Damiano, Rocco, Fabiano and Sebastiano) or of wide popular following (Francis Saverio).
From the seventh decade of the XVII century also, are dated all the decorations (with the exception of the frescos of the apse, realized in the previous century): the stucco artist Domenico Reti realized the stucco touch of the capitals, adorned with zoomorph and phytomorphic elements (most of all sparrow, hawks and lilies, heraldic symbols of the Farnese family) and the sumptuous Baroque decoration of the simple sepulchre of Rodolfo Tanzi (situated at the end of the left aisle, engraved in sandstone by Antonio d’Agrate in the second half of the XVI century); Domenico Reti realized two female figures sat down on the ark (the allegories of the Charity and the Religion) and the framed portrait of the Tanzi (in Latin: Imago clipeata).
In the presbytery, beside the altar, is located a marble statue of the Saint, probably from the first decades of ‘400; the sculpture was replaced here from the demolished church: it represents the saint in Episcopalian dress and in action to bless, with the figure of a knelt devotee at his feet.
A golden bust is also located in a cella (from Latin for small chamber) or naos (from Greek meaning temple) under the Tanzi sepulchre.
In these days bakers all around town prepare traditional sweets of shortcrust pastry in the form of “scarpetta” (shoe) covered of sugary icing of vivacious colors. The shoes of Sait Hilary are the symbol of a legend linked to the figure of the saint. The emperor Costanzo exiled the Saint in Anatolia and it is said that on his travel there, Saint Hilary made a stop in Parma, where a generous cobbler noticed his worn-out shoes and offered him a pair of new ones. The following morning the artisan found gold shoes as a reward for his benevolent gesture. Here are ours, not gold but white and dark chocolate!