To the side of the square adjacent to the first floor of the villa there is a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Umiliana dei Cerchi. Having been widowed at the age of 20, she was constrained to return to the family home. Given her refusal to re-marry, in 1240 she entered the Third Franciscan Order and subsequently shut herself within the tower of the manor house, where she lived a hermetic life. The Blessed Umiliana is linked to myriad miraculous episodes in which she is said to have played a leading role in the course of her life.
The facade of the Renaissance-style chapel features a doorway surmounted by a gable with the anagram of Saint Bernard of Siena, which bears witness to the preaching of the Franciscan brothers in this chapel. To the side, there are two small square stone windows, preceded by two stone prie-dieus. The interior of the chapel, with its roof held aloft by small wooden beams, has a single altar; the end wall plays host to a stone cornice containing a painting by the Bolognese school of the early 17th century, attributed to Guercino (1591-1666).
This oil-on-canvas painting portrays the apparition of the Madonna (holding the Baby Jesus in her arms and surrounded by clouds and angels) to the Blessed Umiliana, who is kneeling in front of her, dressed in the habit of the Third Franciscan Order. At her feet there are several significant still-life objects: the skull (used during the Counter-Reformation as a symbol of the vanity and transitory nature of earthly things), the Rule of the Third Order and the Gospel.
The Life of Umiliana
Umiliana de’ Cerchi was born in 1219. Her father was Ulivieri, son of Cerchio Seniore, the founder of the House of Cerchi, whose life has been historically documented in great detail. She was married at the age of 15, against her will, to a certain Bonaguisi, who was from a noble and rich family, and she bore him two children. She died on 19 May 1246 and was buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. At the end of the 16th century, the Vatican officially recognised the cult that ab immemorabili the Blessed Umiliana had received over the course of four centuries, and at the same time approved the celebration in her honour, held every year on 19 May. The life and work of Umiliana are recorded in numerous works of literature, hagiography and art.