Valtorta’s House is located in Viareggio, at number 257 of the long central street Via Antonio Fratti, a few meters from the intersection with Via Leonardo da Vinci. Visitors are allowed to enter for visiting the room of Maria, which is the first on left on the ground floor, after the entrance.
The visitor who comes back after the renovation of the years 2001-2002 could find it changed and maybe transformed, but not distorted. These changes, in fact, could allow the house to retrieve a part of its original appearance, what was supposed to have happened in 1924, when Valtorta bought it and moved there from Florence.
That year, Maria, the only child, was 27. His father Giuseppe Valtorta, Marshal of Cavalry, was a man of 62, already retired eleven years before for health reasons. The mother, Iside Fioravanzi, who had been a French teacher, was a year older than her husband. Not rich, but still well-off, they furnished the house with the furniture of that period, and that they had brought with them in the frequent transfers, and items that were family memories and from the cities in which they lived. Maybe they put curtains, which have not been preserved, and remade the little upholstery.
The house, on two floors, is not large, but it was comfortable for the needs of that time. Mary found it to his liking, just as he had desired, and remained tied to it for life.
When Maria got sick, in 1934, the living room on the ground floor became his bedroom. The following year, a month before the death of his father, Marta Diciotti came to the house, for doing all the required services, and she fitted to sleep in the nurse room, in a cot without espaliers (Marta was small in stature) put down on the right wall. On the other side of the same wall in the adjoining dining room, it was arranged a bed for the mother of Maria when her age and infirmities demanded her assiduous care. So the house has been adapted to the new requirements and some pieces resulted too cumbersome, like the piano, which was sold.
Ms. Iside died in 1943. The following year, in April, Maria and Marta had to leave the house to the displacement imposed by the war and they moved with part of the furniture in Sant’Andrea di Compito. They went back in December and the house remained as it was before, undamaged.
The two women were alone, and they would not need the top floor, consisting of two bedrooms and a small room with a balcony. In summer, as used to do by the Viareggio people, they rented these rooms for bathers, and the proceeds of a few months ended up as the only source of income for the full year. But the resources more and more forlorn did not prevent Mary and Martha to live with dignity in the house that was their only wealth.
After the death of Maria Valtorta, who died in his room on the morning of October 12, 1961, a period of greater financial security began for Marta Diciotti, heir of Maria writings copyright, and over the years, little by little, she could do works in the house, of which she was the beneficiary.
She installed the system of natural gas heating that she could renovate, placing the boiler in the small kitchen and putting the radiators in every room of the ground floor and the upper floor. Then she had to remove the old-fashioned cast-iron stove that in the stairwell took up the short passage between the Maria bedroom door and the dining room door.
She wanted to build a bath in the small courtyard (called “garden”) at the rear of the house so that the exit door in the Garden (in the stairwell) became the door to enter the bathroom. So the house, which had the only toilet up the staircase in the halfway between the two floors, had two bathrooms, but had halved the already tiny “garden.”
She introduced the TV and outfitted the house with appliances, placing in the dining room a refrigerator as there was not space in the kitchen. She also changed the chandelier in the dining room with one of her taste and upstairs she prepared a room for herself, with a painted iron bed and a lacquered wardrobe.
She had great respect for Maria’s room, which remained intact, with the bed always neat and protected by cellophane. At the top of the bed, she did hang the oil portrait done in 1963 by Lorenzo Ferri in grateful memory for the mystic writer. Everything else in the room was left as it was at the death of Maria, with the addition of some trinkets as a sign of devotion. But in the other rooms of the house Marta placed freely squares and objects she had as gifts or that she considered helpful or pleasant.
Marta Diciotti has lived in Valtorta house for sixty-one years, thirty-five of which after Maria’s death. Hospitalized on October 19, 1996, for a fractured femur, she never came back home, except to visit it a few times. After her rehabilitation at the Barbatini nursing home, Bicchio, she decided to stay at the hospice located on the upper floor of that same nursing home.
Valtorta house remained vacant and the ancient damages caused by humidity, which Marta’s daily care had held or hidden, started to spread out. The plaster had started to swell and fall down at different points, the floor tiles were dirtier and dirtier.
The General Curia of the Order of Friar Servants of Mary, the legitimate owner of the property by the will of Maria Valtorta, was informed about the dilapidated state of the house. After the visit of the General Treasurer, the General Curia decided to sell the house to the Publishing Centre of Valtorta, who accepted the offer. The bill of sale and purchase agreement was signed on February 26, 1998, in Rome. (It was discovered later that that date represented the 50th anniversary of a major milestone in Valtorta’s history. In fact, on February 26, 1948, Pope Pio XII received at an audience a group of three Servites, who desired to speak to him about Maria Valtorta’s unprecedented work).
Marta Diciotti exhaled her last breath on February 5, 2001, right after her 90th birthday. Out of respect for her, who had preserved the usufruct rights, all the various transformations and restoration works started after her death, in summer 2001. The degradation of the house was so bad the wall behind Maria Valtorta’s bed (which had been removed, like all the other furniture) was dripping water.
Marta would not have tolerated this view: her house completely empty, without doors and windows, the destroyed plaster of the walls and the stripped floors. This was the condition of the first floor after the first phase of renovation works. It looked exactly like an under-construction house (or a house waiting to be demolished). Indeed, the works had to start from the foundation in order to isolate the house from the sandy ground with a floor slab placed on some cuples which created an empty space between the soil and the foundation. Even the de-humidifying treatment of the walls started from the bottom of the house.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to reuse the old tiles to cover the floor of the ground floor, which was rebuilt using new tiles made of the same material, drawings and colors as the original ones. However, the recovered tiles were preserved, and as for Maria Valtorta’s bedroom, the builders thought to clean them with accuracy and reassemble them in a platform as an artifact placed on the new floor.
As for the room on the upper floor, there wasn’t any problem, because floors and plaster did not need to be renovated, just cleaned. Anyway, while cleaning three vaulted ceilings, the builders found something really surprising.
After scraping off the limewash, several decorations and figures typical of the houses of Viareggio in the early 1900s appeared. Nobody, not even Marta Diciotti had ever talked about them. The most spontaneous assumption was that strict Mrs. Iside, before moving with her husband and daughter in her brand new home, would have ordered a house painter to cover those silly drawings. No one ever knew the ceiling was hiding a treasure and the drawings were never discovered, not even during the following periodical paintings of the house.
People did not know exactly what to do. Covering them again, while Viareggio and other vintage house owners were trying to bring the ancient styles to light, would have been a shame. Restoring them accurately meant unscheduled expenses. With an amazing effort, the builders voted for the second solution. Now, the three rooms on the upper floor of Valtorta house have their ceilings decorated with beautiful figures, landscapes and streamers which have also helped in selecting the right colors for the walls.
The news of the recovered tiles could help to jumpstart another change, but that change was a radical one. The two flights of the marble stairs, which connect the ground floor with the upper one,were illuminated by a soft light coming from a half-moon shaped window with yellow glass and a radial frame. The window was located in the high corner of the back wall and could not be opened. Well, that half-circle was doubled and transformed into a full circle with colored glass and it repeats the pattern of the ancient glass door on the ground floor, the same restored door that today still divides the hall from the staircase. Besides illuminating the room even more, that rose window now gives the environment a sacred touch, something that maybe even Maria Valtorta could have liked.
The kitchen and the bathrooms, instead, underwent a more radical change. This time, the builders did not think too much about renewing them, both because they had already been renewed during the previous years and because the people who were taking care of the house need them to be efficient and fully functioning. In addition, we need to remember that kitchen and bathrooms are external to the house. They are built as an addition on its back, even if it does not look like this due to the presence of several connecting corridors.
The small kitchen, which is connected to the living room (where the original chandelier has been restored), is now modern and elegant. The enormous heating system was removed (now the house is heated by a small standard boiler, located outside the house) and was replaced by a piece of furniture that was in the staircase, where it was blocking the way to the small courtyard (the so-called “vegetable garden”).
The way to the courtyard, which Marta had closed with the construction of the bathroom after Maria’s death, was reopened by the demolition of a portion of the bathroom, which became a simple lavatory that can be accessed via the staircase. To make up for it, the builders expanded the upper lavatory outwards and transformed it into a proper bathroom.
The house itself did not undergo severe changes. Doors and windows, repaired and cleaned, have been returned to the same places they were before the restoration. The restored pieces of furniture are able to breathe again inside the lightened and refreshed rooms. The visitors now find a more luminous and welcoming house, with a touch of tasteful elegance that evokes the times of the Valtorta Family, thanks to its furniture and objects.
Entering Maria’s room, the visitor is struck by her bed placed on a short platform, made with the tiles the builders recovered from the original floor. Over the bed hangs a portrait and standing above it is a small crucified Christ that was on Maria’s body during the exhibition. On either side of the bed, there is a nightstand with a lamp, a small table with a radio and another small table with a telephone: everything that was within sick Maria’s reach.
In front of the bed, there is still the mirrored wardrobe in which Maria kept her manuscripts and that now stores various books and objects.
The chairs are still there but some furniture has been removed. The toilet is upstairs, inside the corresponding room. The work desk is in the hall, with the signature book that laid on Maria’s bed. Marta’s small bed, upholstered once again, was moved to the upper floor. On the walls, now more free, there are panels and paintings. Two small display cases, one near the bed and the other outside the room, on the wall facing the door, show personal memories which were once scattered everywhere.
For convenience, we have made more space inside Maria Valtorta’s room so every visitor will be able to find the essential to remember and meditate.