Santuario Madonna dei Bagni

Travelling north on the E45 from Todi you’ll see a brown sign for the the church of Madonna dei Bagni. Take the exit for Casalina, and follow through road back on itself as it heads north, parallel to the highway. Just across a bridge, a few metres from the main road is the church.

The exterior is plain brickwork, typical of provincial churches across Umbria; but pass through the small doorway to the south (the main entrance at the head of the steps was closed on our visit) and you’ll find yourself in a gallery lined with of hundreds of ceramic tiles. Each one depicts a bizarre vignette: each represents a member of the community who has passed away, and the nature of their demise is depicted in often gruesome detail.

Dating back as far as the 17th Century, with many from the present day, all manner of expiry are on display: trampled to death by horses, or killed by falling masonry, each death is shown in explicit detail. Many show road accidents, others meet their fate in industrial accidents: crushed against a wall by a truck, or electrocuted while maintaining powerlines. Some show the effects of war, including one tile depicting the aftermath of the wars in former Yugoslavia.

The sheer quantity of these tiles, all lovingly made, is quite moving – but it’s difficult to imagine that not a little enjoyment has been had in the crafting of each.