The Chiesa della Madonna della Solitudine, at the bottom of the Ortobene Mountain in Nuoro, was built in 1625. Originally, it was a simple rural shrine placed away from the residential centre, sanctified to Our Lady of Sorrow, where shepherds and farmers gathered on the occasion of celebrations and festivals consecrated to the Virgin: this is the ancient building where Grazia Deledda set her last and namesake novel in 1936 – La chiesa della solitudine, indeed –, whose main character, Maria Concezione, suffered from her same critical illness. Due to this reason with exquisitely literary origins and due to the fact that it holds the remains of the Nobel Prize female author, this church is particularly dear to the city.
In 1947, eleven years after Deledda's demise – who died in Rome in 1936 in the morning of August, 15th and since that moment rested in the Campo Verano – the proposal to definitively bring back to the island her corpse and to bury it inside the little church was promoted. The funeral home committee, chaired by lawyer and senator Antonio Monni, announced therefore a competitive exam for the renovation, later won by painter and fellow citizen Giovanni Ciusa Romagna, while Antonio Simon Mossa from Sassari was appointed to the settlement of the boulevard and of the opposite square (today reshaped).
Ciusa Romagna's proposal to create a new building to replace the 17th-century one – already in very poor conditions – didn't lack to start debates but the artist, indeed, faithfully kept the simplicity of the original installation, and he even bore in mind some descriptions from Deledda's novel to draw the janitor's house, connecting with the sacred building. During the work, moreover, Ciusa Romagna preferred to give up on some planning ideas from the first hour in order to adopt solutions focused on an imperative of significant sobriety. For the interiors, for example, he initially imagined a decoration with two-toned horizontal strips in white and green, characteristic of the regional Romanesque style, but later he chose uniform white, frequently used inside rural buildings; especially since that the décor had to cover the square-based pillars alongside the walls of the only one nave of the building, where now the round arches are admirable.
The simplicity of the place of worship, a small one but with a great lyric intensity and suitable to the most heartfelt meditation, is also confirmed by the hut-shaped façade culminating with a small bell tower, inside the interior vault covering with wooden trusses and inside the purity of lines from the semicircular apse. On the other hand, the very characteristic elements of the sacred décor are those who make – still today – this church a precious and one of a kind jewel. During the second half of the 50's, two artists from Sassari crafted them: sculptor Gavino Tilocca, who did the marble relief of the Madonna con Bambino placed in the apse, and designer Eugenio Tavolara, who developed the uniform decorative plan including the entrance gate, the Way of Sorrows fourteen stations hung on side walls, the tabernacle small door, all candle holders, the crucified Christ and the bell (offered to the church by the son of the female writer, Franz Madesani in 1956).
Tavolara conceived a plan according to the ensemble principle, in order to let all the works created for the church to talk to each other in their common reference to decorative styles from the Sardinian folk art (from carving to embroidery and weaving). The references to the Island tradition, clearly moderated by the artist in an intellectual key and without personal reworked versions and fictional digressions, are clear – above all – in the big bronzed gate, where the "mysterious" merge of high decorations and deep religiousness takes place, understood as a feeling where Catholic faith and folk myths pacifically coexist. Placed in the center or the square surface, the Madonna and Child figure seems isolated from the remainder, through a further frame; and if the Virgin has the dignity and the authority that reminds a Byzantine icon – frontal, static and hieratic as it is – that's what it is surrounded by, beyond the geometric frame, as well as a miscellaneous and mysterious constellation of arabesques, symbols and fictional figures: angels and saints' outlines alternate with a mixed fauna (horses, flying animals, reptiles, wild boars and sheeps…) while empty spaces, such as inside a primordial horror vacui with medieval cross references, are bridged by a dense line of suns, moons, stars, crosses and cockades.
Still to be admired and worked out, apparently naïf but rich in very sophisticated symbolic cross references, the gate of the Chiesa della Solitudine acquires the features of a true "threshold", beyond representing one of the peaks inside the production of this artist from Sassari; it is also an excellent example of a handmade and planning mastery. Majestic and magnetic, it can't wait to be crossed by the most devoted worshipper or by a simple visitor that inside the shrine will find the right atmosphere to come closer to the small black marbled sarcophagus where the mortal remains of Grazia Deledda are still resting today.
- Deledda, La chiesa della solitudine, Milan, Treves, 1936; Nuoro, ILISSO, 2008;
- Altea, M. Magnani, Eugenio Tavolara, Nuoro, ILISSO, 1994;
- Giovanni Ciusa Romagna. Il sentimento del colore, edited by G. Ciusa Fois and M. Ciusa, Venezia, Il Cardo Editore, 1996;
- Altea, M. Magnani, Pittura e scultura dal 1930 al 1960, Nuoro, ILISSO, 2000;
- M.L. Frongia, Giovanni Ciusa Romagna, Nuoro, ILISSO, 2005;
- Eugenio Tavolara e il mondo magico, exhibition catalogue edited by G. Altea and A. Camarda (Nuoro, Museo Tribu, December, 21th, 2011 – April, 30th, 2012), Nuoro, ILISSO, 2012;
- Nuoro e il suo volto, edited O. Alberti and A. Caocci, Sassari, Carlo Delfino Editore, 2014.