The wonderfully decorated Suardi Oratory was built for the powerful aristocrat Battista Suardi, who wanted to show his loyalty to the Church of Rome during a period characterised by the Protestant Reformation and mercenary raids. The frescoes painted on the main walls represent the histories of Saint Barbara and Saint Brigid from Ireland and on the back wall you will ‰nd the episodes of the life of Saint Catherine, a martyr from Alexandria and of the redeemed Mary Magdalene, writes Katherine Mezzacappa
The people of Trescore, a small spa town near Bergamo in Northern Italy, are justly proud of the Suardi Oratory, built by a noble family in 1524 and covered inside with breathtaking wall-paintings depicting the lives of St. Barbara – and St. Brigid of Kildare.
Barbara was a popular subject for painters and patrons in Italy throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but it is much rarer to find images of our own ‘Mary of the Gael’.
These paintings were commissioned by Battista (John the Baptist) Suardi, a wealthy Lombard nobleman, for the chapel of his country residence. Battista seems to have been a cultured man, a poet and an essayist, and generous to the needy. At various times he held the office of president of the local Misericordia, a prototype ambulance association which exists in Italy to this day.
Painted on the chapel wall is a sonnet Battista himself wrote in praise of the Irish saint, in which he describes Brigid’s miracles “filling the blind with light”, “bringing forth flowers from dry dead wood”, “turning water into another drink entirely”, and “holding back tempests from heaven.”
Brigid was born probably at Faughart, near Dundalk, in around 450, and is said to have been the daughter of a slave and a king, her master. She is patron saint of illegitimate children, as well as of brewers, dairy-men, cattle, chicken-farmers, fugitives and mariners.
Refusing marriage, Brigid took the veil from St. Macaille and established her first small community of religious women at Croghan Hill, followed by her foundation of a double monastery at Kildare, becoming abbess of the convent, the first female congregation in Ireland.