The Basilica of Sant’Andrea has always been an important place for religious pilgrimages as it preserves in its crypt the Sacred Vessels, precious ampoules containing the Blood of Christ. Legend has it that Longinus, the Roman solider who pierced Christ on the Cross, collected the blood and brought it to Mantua. The relic is carried in a procession through the city on Good Friday.
Another important destination for pilgrims is the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie, in the village of Grazie di Curtatone in the south of the city. The Sanctuary was commissioned by Francesco I Gonzaga in 1399 as an offering to the Virgin for the end of the plague. In Lombard Gothic style, the Sanctuary was renovated and decorated again in the sixteenth century. It preserves on the inside a very vivid example of popular faith: the wooden structure on the side has life-sized statues from the seventeenth century made of papier-mâché and other different materials. A stuffed crocodile hangs from the ceiling: according to local tradition, the crocodile was an offering to the Virgin left by a boatman who managed to escape an aggression from the animal. Yet radioactive carbon analysis revealed that the crocodile must have actually been found in the river Nile and that it was most probably captured at the same period as the building of the Sanctuary.
During Ferragosto, in mid-August, the ancient Fiera delle Grazie takes place. The Fair hosts in the churchyard of the Sanctuary the international competition of Madonnari, pavement and street artists who paint religious objects using chalk.