Although smaller than the Basilica di Sant’Eufemia, Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church of no less importance and is part of the Early Christian itinerary around Grado.
You may think it very plain from the outside, but it has a remarkable, symbolic, three-mullioned window at the top of the façade, with little columns and capitals dating back to Roman times.
As one of the oldest buildings of Christian worship along the North Adriatic, this tiny basilica is an unusual building. Inside, you'll find some surprising details of considerable historic and artistic interest: in the apse, for example, which some experts attribute to Syrian influence. Furthermore, there is a surprising one metre drop between floor levels, which was restored in the 1920s: the two different levels of the central and right-hand nave effectively demonstrate the two different construction phases.
Prior to these two churches, however, there used to be a rectangular room with a lime mortar and crushed tile floor, dating back to the late 4th century. This could have been the first place of Christian worship in ancient Grado. Mid 5th century, a proper basilica was built on the lower level. This church was abandoned for a while as a result of fire damage and was then absorbed into the splendid building built by the Patriarch Elias in the second half of the 6th century when the floor level was raised. Remains of the "intermediate" basilica can still be seen, such as the current, right-hand nave, where you can admire a beautiful piece of mosaic flooring with geometric patterns, large, stylised, four-petal flowers and inscriptions of benefactors’ names. A large part of the unusual, mullioned apse, the so-called throne, and the presbytery stone and marble chairs and bench also date back to the 5th century.
Hydrogeological conditions were clearly very different in ancient times. However, if we consider the type of subsoil, it would have been unthinkable, if not impossible, to create underground crypts. So, similarly to the Basilica of Santa Eufemia, a "prothesis" and a "diaconicon" were built to the right and left of Santa Maria delle Grazie’s apse, that are unusually linked. These two tiny side rooms were used by worshippers to leave their offerings, and to prepare what was needed for ecclesiastic ceremonies and store the vestments and relics, respectively.
The five columns, with beautiful, varied, reclaimed capitals on both the right and left-hand side, date back to the period of Elias. The altar is of the same period, whereas the enclosure was restored using some authentic and some new parts. Of special significance are the animals depicted, almost certainly the work of master lapidaries from Aquileia, who had moved to the Castrum of Grado. Nowadays, we may find it hard to instantly understand the doves, peacocks and lambs, whereas they were very common symbols in the past. A series of interior and exterior alterations were made to Santa Maria delle Grazie, especially in the Baroque period and then in the 19th century. This precious trove of art and architecture was restored several times during the 20th century to return it to its former glory by eliminating the various additions and underpinning the original structure.
The four-sided portico attached to the façade, like the portico of the nearby Cathedral has been lost over time due to the various changes in taste. A reproduction of its perimeter has been marked on the outside floor. The relatively recent wooden statue shows the church is dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie. Standing in the left-hand nave, it is very popular with local worshippers. "Cesa de le Grasie", also known as "de le femene", represents the importance of worshipping the person who traditionally symbolises the intercession between the human race and the divine.