The current church of San Flaviano, formed from two overlapping rooms, started being built in the eleventh century to replace an earlier building. In 1032 the small church of Santa Maria, now ruined, was completely reconstructed and dedicated to the martyr Flaviano. A headstone, now mounted on the counterfacade, gives us information about the event and attributed credit to the fervor of the people of Montefiascone and to the generosity of a certain person named Lando.
Info: Parish (Tel. 0761.826198)
CHURCH (Basilica) OF SAN FLAVIANO
The current church of San Flaviano, formed from two overlapping rooms, started being built in the eleventh century to replace an earlier building. It has evidence of Carolingian chancel furniture thanks to some fragments of a parapet banister, barrier, or ciborium [shaped canopy that overhangs the altar] that were discovered during the last restoration work. In 1032 the small church of Santa Maria, now ruined, was completely reconstructed and dedicated to the martyr Flaviano. A headstone, now mounted on the counterfacade, gives us information about the event and attributed credit to the fervor of the people of Montefiascone and to the generosity of a certain person named Lando. The original building, remodeled in subsequent periods, showed particular architectural characteristics. It united the two morphological trends of Roman architecture. The first was the longitudinal basilica, delineated by three naves and a rectangular outer perimeter, and the second is a radial building with a central plan that is typical of the baptismal font that you can see by the indoor floor plan, which is largely oval-shaped in both the radial apses and in the formation of the matroneo
, which was developed as an abulatory perimeter [for walking]. At the beginning of the fourteenth century an extension was added to the Romanesque church, as a new Gothic-style façade and the lateral naves were also raised. During the fifteenth century, the various existing chapels on the left side of the church were constructed. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, among other various work wanted by Cardinal Aldrovandi, the main entrance was modified. His coat of arms was added above the door and a roof supported by columns to cover the loggia [exterior corridor on the façade of the building] used for the blessing ceremonies was built, and the roof of the church was reconstructed as well.
The asymmetrical façade is opened at the bottom by three tall Gothic arches crowned by a balcony loggia from the sixteenth century. In the middle arch, with the coat of arms of the Cardinal Aldovrandi above it, opens a large portal that is also Gothic, while the lateral ones are characterized by two small lancet windows. The upper part at the end of the façade where it comes to a point is lighted by three circular openings and to the left stands a small vaulted bell tower with two bells and a flat facade. The rear of the building is placed against a small hill with the apse wedged into the ground. The west façade is equipped with two entrances that allow direct access to the upper floor of the church and features a rose in the center with two circular openings at the sides. On the south side, traces evidence the insertions of small roofs with rounded corners that served to support an arch, demonstrating that in the past several buildings must have been leaning against this side of the building, then were demolished to allow for the construction of the rectory [where the priest lives]. The rectory was also demolished during the restoration work in 1965, which brought to light a gothic mullioned [divided] window whose decorations were destroyed.
The church has a basilica floor plan with three naves divided by pillars and columns of various forms with various capitals for type and age. The two gothic capitals of the pillars in the front of the entrance date from the beginning of the fourteenth century. Carved into the right pillar, almost camouflaged by the floral motifs, is a pelican that is an allegorical figure of Christ. It cut its chest to feed its young with its own blood, while on the next side you find a stylized owl with two small birds at the top. The capital of the first pillar on the left is decorated with a double row of lanceolate leaves [narrow oval shape tapering to a point at each end] with an abacus characterized by a phytomorphic pattern [fruits, plants, etc.]. The Romanesque capitals of the half-columns lean against the pilasters, and are distributed along the naves and the ambulatory [covered passage around the cloister]. Some are not finished, others more or less incorporated in later works. Two of the half-columns that support them are ribbed, and one is tortile [twisted]. The walls and segments of the vault are covered with frescoes painted between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, and are the work of artists with different education. On the entrance wall to the right the frescoes Il presepio, L’epifania, L’annunciazione are painted and, in the small apse, is Gesù e Santi. In the first arch of the nave to the right the frescoes Tre Santi, Miracoli di San Nicola di Bari and a Crocifissione are painted; while in the second arch there is a Crocifissione, La Madonna con Bambino in trono e Santi, San Giovanni Battista, Il ritratto di papa Urbano V and, in the front arch, Il battesimo di Gesù, all of which are frescoes from the fourteenth century. On the other hand, in 1740 a painting on canvas placed in the fourth arch of the right nave depicts Il martirio di San Flaviano made by Giuseppe Antonio Ghedini. The capitals of the central columns are typically Romanesque. The capital of the second pillar on the right has a double row of lanceolate leaves topped with calicules [the curled top of a capital] and an abacus decorated with a pattern of interwoven bands. The capital of the third column on the right is characterized by the presence of a humorous figure that is holding the spirals of the capital and is pulling his beard, exclaiming, “O you all who watch our church also observe my beard.” On the right side of the same capital another figure smiles, holding her belly and holding the spiral with the other hand says, “I am a sculpted guardian here to tease fools.” From the twelfth century there are also the capitals of the pillars next to the altar that, although inspired by the decorations of the Byzantine cubic capitals, are able to show their Ravenna autonomy. In the last pillar to the right there is a small Gothic ciborium added from the end of the thirteenth century. At the end of the building there are three apses arranged in an arch. On the right apse, an Annunciation is painted from 1575; in the spherical top of the central apse has Gesù benedicente e i Santi Paolo e Pietro, a fresco from the end of the fifteenth century or the beginning of the next century, and a little further down there is San Flaviano martire (XV century). In the apse to the left is Il battesimo di Gesù tra i Santi Martino e Lucia, which is also dating, as is the apse to the right, from the second half of the sixteenth century. In the left nave, near the apse, there are some frescoes that appear incomplete with missing parts: a Deposizione and above, a Madonna con Bambino in trono e Santi from the fifteenth century. In the same nave there is a Gothic aedicule [small niched shrine] with painting from the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the next century, with extensive restoration in the seventeenth century. On the arch of the aedicule, two small clipeuses [medallion, such as in Roman times] depict L’annunciazione. Inside of the top of the aedicule there is Dio Padre benedicente, and at the bottom, La visitazione. To the right of the aedicule a common woman appears with a basket on her head that has no relevance to the holy event. The Romanesque capital of the third column on the left is decorated with a double row of leaves topped by calicules, while that of the second pillar that is also from the twelfth century, is entirely covered by a phytomorphic pattern of stylized leaves and garlands of flowers. Among the plant decorations various animals appear, including two lions that are devouring a man. The soffit [underside] of the entrance archway of the third chapel on the left, called the Magdalene, are the illustrations of San Sebastiano and Santa Barbara, placed one in front of the other. Inside, on the left wall, La Madonna in trono con Bambino is pictured, and to the left there is another San Sebastiano, all of which date from the fifteenth century. Placed on the floor is the tombstone of Giovanni Fugger of Defuk, the dignitary of Augusta who died in 1113, which gave life to the legend of Est Est Est. The plate, attributed to the fourteenth century, is dated far from the year of the death of the illustrious person, and was considered his burial. The epigraph, at one time placed at the feet of the plate, is now put up on a wall: EST EST EST TOO MUCH EST HERE LIES DEAD MY MASTER GIOVANNI DEUC. According to legend, it was placed by the servant of the deceased that had the job to precede him in the journey to point out to him places where you could drink some good wine with the word east. The wine that the servant found in Montefiascone was so exquisite that he wrote east, east, east and the master drank so much of it that he died. This is how the local white wine derived the name Est! Est!! Est!!! In the following chapel, known as the Crucifixion, San Sebastiano is depicted on the right and opposite there is a Crocifissione with the Virgin, San Nicola and San Giovanni Battista, both of which are from the fifteenth century. The first chapel on the left, known as the Innocents, was added to the main body of the church in the fifteenth century and was decorated in 1499 by an anonymous local artist who was influenced by the style of the Pastura and close to Francesco of Avanzarano the Great, on commission of the spouses of Onofri, whose portraits appear between the decorations of the vault. The fresco on the back wall depicts La strage degli Innocenti [The Massacre of the Innocents], while under the altar table there is the figure of Cristo deposto. The arches that surround the vault are decorated with grotesques, cherubs and masks, while in the center, between angelic figures, Cristo benedicente is painted within a mandorla [an almond-shaped motif in which the Christ sits]. Above the arched entrance of the chapel the fresco L’incontro dei tre vivi con I tre morti is painted. The painting, dating to the beginning of the fourteenth century, shows three falconers that chance upon three skeletons. At the top San Macario did mention a skull touching them with one hand, showing them a warning: PENSATE QUOD ESTIS ET QUOD NON VITARE POTESTIS. At the bottom left for the fragmented paintings, also dating from the fourteenth century, a Santo that is no longer identifiable and un Cristo della Domenica are painted. On the left side of the counterfacade, the frescoes of a Crocifissione and the series of the Storie di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria are painted, attributed to an anonymous artist of the Roman sphere of the fourteenth century who was influenced by Cavallini. Finally, the wall of the central span of the counterfacade shows the remains of a Dormitio Virginis. Towards the bottom, to the sides of the door, there are two prophet figures facing upwards and carrying an illegible scroll, while to the right you can find the image of a headless San Francesco. Finally, painted on the arch of the middle nave is La Madonna con Bambino tra angeli e due evangelisti, a fresco from the fourteenth century that is attributed to an anonymous artist that demonstrates knowledge of the style of Cacallini. The center of the vault covering of the nave is interrupted by a large rectangular opening for communicating with the upper church, which forms something like a large matroneum
At the end of the right nave, through a Gothic arch, there is access to a staircase that leads to the upper church, which is also a basilica floor plan with three naves, separated by short columns that support the arches. The construction of this area was definitively ended in 1262, when Pope Urbano IV inaugurated the altar. The Gothic expansion that has affected the area east of the lower church was resolved in the upper part with the construction of a single, large arch. The wooden covering of today was built in the 1980’s. The modification of the double staggered side layers in a single layer can be dated to the time of Urbano IV. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, three new alters of stucco were built, then removed at the same time the plaster that covered the whole church during the restoration work that was carried out in the 60’s of last century. Other restoration work, put in place during the eighties of the last century, have since been restored to the original form of the lower church, and not the upper. In the middle of the central nave is a large rectangular opening, bordered by an elegant eighteenth-century gate, which allows a glimpse into the lower church. The seat of Urbano IV (1262) is placed at the center of the entrance wall, behind the papal altar. It has a niche carved into the wall, surmounted by a canopy with a three-lobed gable [an arch with three smaller arches flanking the sides], supported by two columns with Corinthian capitals and irregular bases. At the bottom, on the left wall, there is a painting by Pietro Ercole Fava that depicts Il martririo di Santa Margherita, signed and dated to 1739. The painting reveals the influence of the formulas adopted by the Bolognese school in the previous century.
BASILICA OF ST. FLAVIANO
The Gothic Romanesque Basilica of St. Flaviano is situated on the ancient Roman highway route, Via Francigena. Founded in the eleventh century on the ruins of the ancient church of Santa Maria, this building has some particular architectural details, managing to merge the two different styles with an example of perfect balance. The construction is the result of the overlay of two different churches placed inversely. The entrance to the upper church is at the back, while the one to the lower church is at the front. The lower church of 1032 is divided into a nave and two aisles enriched by several frescoes from the XIV to the XVI centuries. At the beginning of the XIV century a new Gothic façade was added to the Romanesque church and the side naves were raised. The façade was enriched by a Renaissance Loggia, from where the Popes used to bless the people. In the third chapel of the left aisle you can see a plaque in honour of Giovanni Defuk, whose name is linked to the EST! EST!! EST!!! wine of Montefiascone. The legend tells of the journey to Rome by a religious man from Germany, preceded by a faithful servant whose duty was to report with an “Est” the places where he had found good wine. On his arrival in Montefiascone, he was so pleased with the wine that he wrote the word “Est” three times. Defuk moved to Montefiascone where he spent his whole life and drank so much wine that eventually died.
Church (Basilica) of San Flaviano
Translation by Diana Fontaine, University of Georgia, enrolled in the USAC Viterbo program.
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