Fra Vincenzo Pietrosanti da Bassiano è autore di numerosi crocifissi presenti nell'area laziale. Nel 1669 fra Vincenzo consegnava il suo secondo crocifisso al convento di S. Maria di Versacarro di Nemi, che veniva accolto da tutto il popolo con grande solennità. Nel crocifisso, che presenta un incavo a cui si accede dal dorso, vennero inserite alcune reliquie che fanno della scultura non una semplice raffigurazione ma piuttosto una teca, e via via altri documenti. Il padre provinciale dei Minori osservanti, nel 1674 le inserì egli stesso nel crocifisso:
"In questo SS.mo Crocifisso vi sono l'infrascritte Reliquie ed io, P. Vincenzo da Bassiano, Custode di questa Provincia Romana, con ogni riverenza et humiltà, con le mie proprie mani ve l'ho poste.
Un frammento del legno della Santissima Croce del legno dritto e traverso. Della Colonna dove Nostro Signore fu flagellato. Del Sacro Sepolcro dove seppellito. Della Pietra del monte Calvario. Della Pietra dove sedé quando fu coronato di spine. Della fossa dove fu piantata la Croce.[...].
In questo documento si attesta anche che il crocifisso è opera di fra Vincenzo e che è stato esposto per la prima volta con solennità il 19 maggio 1669.
La tragicità dell'espressione e le particolarità che il volto del crocifisso presenta – il verismo della resa dei capelli ritorti perché intrisi di sangue e la bocca semiaperta con la lingua e il palato mirabilmente veri - diede subito adito al leggendario: si narra che la testa sia stata fatta in modo miracoloso. Ecco quanto scrive a proposito il Padre Casimiro da Roma (1744): "Fu questa lavorata dal divoto F. Vincenzo da Bassiano nei soli giorni di Venerdì, nei quali macerava il proprio corpo con pane, ed acqua, e flagellavalo con aspre discipline, pregando istantemente il Signore che questa di lui immagine riuscisse di benefizio alle anime: ed è fama costante ch'egli un dì ritrovasse il di lei volto perfettamente compiuto di mano invisibile."
La ragione di tale leggenda va senz'altro rintracciata nel fatto che il crocifisso, opera di un semplice frate "perito nella scoltura" - così si parla di lui nella registrazione della sua morte avvenuta a Roma nel 1694 -, trova nel volto del simulacro di Nemi una potente carica espressiva, che suscita profonde emozioni; Gesù crocifisso è ritratto nella tragicità degli spasmi della morte di croce seguendo la cifra tipica della spiritualità del tempo, orientata a profondo amore per l'umanità sofferente di Cristo. Animato da una continua contemplazione della passione del Signore, fra Vincenzo fa emergere dalla sua opera il dramma della sofferenza del Crocifisso: la corona di spine ferocemente infissa sul capo, il corpo straziato da evidenti piaghe –vistosa quella del costato dal cui fuoriesce un notevole fiotto di sangue rappreso, e quella sulla spalla causata dal peso della croce trasportata verso il calvario -, le ferite dei chiodi nelle mani e nei piedi fortemente deformati dal peso del corpo che sopportano, il torace inarcato che evidenzia la fatica nel trarre il respiro, lo marcano abbondantemente. Ma ciò che più evidente emerge dal simulacro è un momento della passione che certamente fra Vincenzo ha voluto e saputo mirabilmente esprimere: il Cristo che si rimette alla volontà del Padre mutando una espressione di dolore in un abbozzo di sorriso; egli riesce a comunicarci la consapevolezza di Cristo morente che nel totale abbandono al progetto di Dio sarà operata la salvezza per l'intera umanità. L'intento del pio frate nello scolpire un crocifisso a beneficio delle anime appare perfettamente compiuto.
Sanctuary of the Holy Crucifix in Nemi
Origins of the church
The construction of this church, together with the adjoining convent under the care of the Friars Minor, was promoted by the lord of Nemi, Mario Frangipane (1574-1654). The foundation brings us back to the story of the abandonment of Nemi by Capuchin friars who had lived in the destroyed site of Santa Maria located on the west side of the lake for over a century, just above the so-called " fishermen’s house." This place, which used to be the site of a hermitage and a church, also seemed to be the location in which the sacred image of Our Lady of Versacarro had been kept. The Capuchins had come to Nemi in 1534, called by their feudal lord Ascanio Colonna to settle where the hermitage of Santa Maria church was then consacrated to Saint Francis on February 24, 1579. The arrangement proved to be very precarious, as they tried to adapt the old structures to the needs of the community. In 1636 they abandoned the monastery in order to build in a better location. Brother Michele from Bergamo was nominated superintendent of the work but discussions between Mario Frangipane and the Father Provincial of the Capuchins about the choice of where to build the new complex, led the men to leave Nemi and move to Genzano. The brothers were welcomed with joy and jubilation by the local inhabitants while "... the poor inhabitants from Nemi [...] kept crying for mercy [...]and all crudely scratched their face and beat their breast acting great compassion ...." . Frangipane decided to build the monastery anyway. He added a new church and then gave the whole structure to the Friars Minor, who took possession of it on July 25, 1645. The people from Nemi together with their parrish priest, wanted the Versacarro icon to be placed where it meant to be: in their own church. However, with the display of the crucifix carved by Brother Vincent Pietrosanti from Bassiano, the church was then called “Sanctuary of the Crucifix”.
The plant type is particularly interesting due to its unique peculiarity: it has the shape of an inverted Latin cross and it has a rectangular, long and narrow shaped room, which represents the priests’ space. This area was certainly originally divided into two equal sized rooms, one for the choir, and the other for the priests. They were separated from an “aedicula”, ancient wooden altar with blue and golden decorations and with four spiraled columns, and angels, symbols of passion. At Braschis’ time (1789), the church was completely restored: a new marbled altar replaced the old one and the building was completely repainted in 1835 by Father Francis from Naples, who covered the previous paintings done by Father Felix (who was from Naples as well) in 1675. Of the latter paintings, only some frescoes remained in the vault of the sacristy. The paintings on the walls in today’s church, exist thanks to a restoration and improvement of its beauty carried out in the years 1898-99 by the new owners of the convent, the religious of the 'Order of Maria SS. of Mercy”. The “Mercedari” Fathers considered the unadorned interior wall surfaces as too modest and decided to decorate them. This decoration was carried out by painter Eugenio Cisterna (1862-1933) and by architect Lorenzo M. de Rossi who also re-designed the facade.
The icon of Santa Maria di Versacarro, a tempera on board belonging to the beginning of Italian art, was part of a larger painting, cut several times (1670 and 1811), in which they portrayed the apostles Peter and Paul, whose faces already stored, were stolen in 1975. The painting underwent a restoration in 1996 due to the patinas accumulated over time, and then placed back in the renovated chapel by the Brotherhood where it still worshipped (to the left of the first built in the late nineteenth century just to host the image). The title under which the image of the Madonna is known is particularly interesting: the term “Versacarro” seems to be symbolizing the overthrow of the pagan cults related to Diana from Nemi who used to be worshipped in these places. But a different explanation was given in 1626 after the testimony of an anonymous chronicler: "According to the tradition, this Madonna seemed to belong to another ancient Church, across the lake, and miraculously came into this Church, through the angels and was seen to pass over the middle of the lake in a chariot of fire all glowing. " In fact, there used to be an ancient custom in Nemi called "the call of Our Lady" in memory of the passage over the lake of the Versacarro icon from St. Nicholas’ church, located in Valle Luna, to Santa Maria’s church.
The tragic expression, and the special features of the face - the realism of Christ’s blood-soaked hair and half-open mouth and with his realistic tongue and palate - immediately brought up a legend: it is said that the head was made in a miraculous way. Here is what he writes about the Father Casimiro from Rome (1744): "This was worked by the devout F. Vincenzo from Bassiano only on Fridays, in which he macerated his body with bread and water, , praying earnestly to the Lord that this image of him could benefice of souls: and it is known that he would regain the face perfectly made of invisible hand. "
The reason for this legend certainly lies in the fact that the crucifix, the work of a simple monk "who died during the sculpture" ( he died in Rome in 1694), evokes very deep emotions; the crucified Jesus is portrayed in the tragedy of death, following the typical figure of the spirituality of time, showing a deep love for the suffering humanity. Driven by a constant contemplation of the passion of the Lord, Brother Vincent, through his work, shows the drama of the suffering of the Crucifixion: the crown of thorns on his head stuck fiercely, his body torn apart by the blatant wounds on his chest from which flows a considerable stream with dried blood, and on the shoulder caused by the weight of the cross moved to the ordeal. The wounds due to the nails in hands and feet are strongly deformed by the body weight, his arched chest highlights the difficulties in inhaling. But what emerges most clearly from the statue is a moment of passion that Brother Vincent certainly managed to express wonderfully: the Christ who defers to the will of the Father changing his painful expression into a hint of a smile; he manages to communicate Christ’s awareness of his death in total abandonment to God's plan knowing that it will aim to the salvation of mankind. The mission of the pious monk to make a sculpture of a crucifix for the people seems to be perfectly accomplished.
Since the exposure of the crucifix, the church has been the destination of many pilgrimages; chronicles of the time also report the presence of numerous people, characters and miraculous healings.The sanctuary was honored by visits from several Popes: Clement XI in 1711, Benedict XIV in 1741, Clement XIII in 1763, Pius VI, who went there several times and adorned the Church of plenary indulgence, as his successors Pius VII and Gregory XVI. Pius IX had been there three times and had left the vestments together with the chalice with which he had celebrated the holy mass as a gift to the crucifix. In the third centenary of the first exhibition of the Crucifix (1969), Paul VI graced the festivities with his presence. Pope John Paul II venerated the crucifix in the Extraordinary Holy Years 1983 and 1997. In the end, on 22 August 2006, Pope Benedict XVI prayed before the Holy Crucifix pleading for peace in the Church and in the world.