The start of work on the church of San Paolo in Viterbo coincides with the construction of the convent which dates back to November 6, 1589. The church was consecrated on February 8, 1615 by Cardinal Tiberio Muti, as evidenced by the plaque placed above the compass of the entrance door.
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CHURCH OF SAN PAOLO AI CAPPUCCINI
The start of work on the church of San Paolo in Viterbo coincides with the construction of the convent which dates back to November 6, 1589. The church was consecrated on February 8, 1615 by Cardinal Tiberio Muti, as evidenced by the plaque placed above the compass of the entrance door. This new foundation of a Capuchin monastery in Viterbo was dedicated to the Conversion of St. Paul and, due to the characteristics of the site, called San Paolo de Monte Oliveti. The artistic evidence preserved inside the church clearly highlights how between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries the Capuchin patronage was the direct reflection of an active religious contact, which immediately moved the community towards the Capuchin friars. A spiritual contact made matter through great works created for the Capuchins of Viterbo by important artists such as the Flemish painter Frans Van Kasteele, known as Francesco di Castello (1593); the Capuchin father Raffaele da Roma, who with the San Crispino canvas also represents a fundamental starting point for defining the artistic profile of this very interesting 18th century master, and the Viterbo painter Pietro Papini (1807). This period was supported not only by the presence of a few but important works preserved in the church of San Paolo, in addition to those preserved inside the convent. In 1807, on the occasion of some renovation works of the church activated in the early nineteenth century, the painting with the Madonna offering the Child to San Felice da Cantalice was commissioned to the Viterbo painter Pietro Papini. In the middle of the same century, a pictorial composition depicting the Immaculate Conception surrounded by angels and four Capuchin saints was commissioned on the vault. In 1962 the church, which had survived until then with its typically medieval lines, was the subject of a radical renovation together with the entire convent complex. In this circumstance the church underwent profound transformations both in the facade and in the interior, including the sacristy and choir.
The facade of the church is presented in the simple form of a gable structure, decorated with a central oculus and the entrance portal. Five steps in peperino stone lead to the mezzanine floor to access the interior of the church. The portal formed by a simple trilithic composition in molded peperino, is surmounted by a tympanum. The façade is obsolete compared to the religious structures of Viterbo due to its particular red color, due to the color of the terracotta bricks of the roofing layer, an evident result of the renovations and modifications carried out on the structure in 1972.
The Church has an architectural layout characterized by a nave covered by a barrel vault with three chapels on each side. The vault is invaded by a large nineteenth-century pictorial composition depicting the Immaculate Conception surrounded by angels and four Capuchin saints: Felice da Cantalice, Lorenzo da Brindisi, Fedele da Sigmaringa and Serafino da Montegranaro. The first chapel on the right (1), known as the Porziuncola, is dedicated to San Crispino, depicted in the altar canvas painted towards the end of the 18th century. by father Raffaele Minossi from Rome. The canvas depicts San Crispino da Viterbo to whom the Virgin and Child appear. The oil on canvas is dated 1791 and signed P. F. Raphael in Rome Cap (ucinu) s. On the right side of the chapel you can admire a tapestry with San Crispino, the Madonna and the Child, made by father Ugolino Alessandri from Belluno in 1982. In the next chapel we find the most evocative environment of the whole church: the chapel-sanctuary of San Crispino. The body of the saint is venerated in a glass urn specially set up in 1983, when it was moved there from the Roman convent of the Capuchins of the Most Holy Conception in via Veneto (2). The chapel dedicated to the Madonna della Vittoria (3) follows, built after the mid-eighteenth century at the expense of Giuseppe Silvestrelli from Viterbo in memory of the venerable father Carlo da Motrone, buried in a side wall of the chapel with its marble inscription. At the end of the central nave is the high altar, made up of various elements of peperino, which suggests the idea of a “pyre” for the holocaust. The large altarpiece placed at the end of the choir, in classical style (4), depicts the Madonna with Child and angels at the top, below there is a landscape with a turreted city (perhaps Viterbo) and the Saints Paul the Apostle, the deacon Lorenzo and the martyrs Faustino and Giovita; below, San Francesco d’Assisi and Santa Rosa da Viterbo. The 1593 work is signed and dated by the Flemish painter Frans Van Kasteele on a cartouche placed in the lower center of the canvas. The two chapels on the left side of the church are dedicated to San Francesco with a large statue (5), and to San Felice (6) depicted in a canvas painted in 1807 by Pietro Papini from Viterbo. A door to the right of the main altar leads to the conference hall, once a sacristy, on whose walls there is a cycle of frescoes created between 1954 and 1955 by Father Ugolino da Belluno, depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis, while on the back wall, around the Crucifix, Franciscan saints and various characters are represented, including Alessandro Manzoni who made some Capuchin figures famous.
Pietro Fioretti was born on November 13, 1668 in Viterbo in today’s Via dei Mille 86 from a poor family but of great faith. As a boy, after his first studies, he worked in a cobbler’s shop. At the age of 25 he decides to enter the Capuchin convent at Palanzana: his spiritual model will be San Felice da Cantalice. He wears the novice dress on July 22, 1693 and chooses the name of Crispino in honor of the patron of the shoemakers’ guild. In 1694 he was assigned as a kitchen assistant to the convent of Tolfa, where he performed the first miracles. In 1697 he was in charge of the care of the sick in the convent of Rome; He was later transferred to Albano, where he was appreciated by prominent ecclesiastics, including Clement XI himself who loved to converse with him for his great faith and innate simplicity. He was then sent to Monterotondo for six years, before being sent to Orvieto where he held the office of a seeker friar for thirty-eight years. His apostolate among the poor, the sick, the prisoners, is permeated by so much charity, but also by wisdom and wit, for which he is loved by all. He writes over five hundred letters in response to those who asked for prayers and comfort in the difficulties of life. He is remembered in a particular way for his devotion to Our Lady, as well as for her great humility and austerity, combined with an always serene soul. On 19 May 1750 at the age of 82 he died in the convent of Via Veneto in Rome, where he had arrived two years earlier due to age and a severe form of arthrosis that had afflicted him for a long time. He is buried on the floor of the “Secret Chapel” in the church of the Roman convent. In 1806 he was beatified by Pius VII and his body placed under the altar of the chapel of San Francesco. On June 20, 1982, John Paul II raises him to the glory of the Saints. Since 1983 San Crispino has been back in his Viterbo, where he rests in the chapel-sanctuary of the church of San Paolo ai Cappuccini.
BRANCA Remo, Un frate allegro, Editrice Sarda Fossataro, Cagliari 1971, pp. 180;
CESARINI Giovanni, Il convento dei Cappuccini di Viterbo: un esempio di organico sviluppo territoriale, in Biblioteca e Società, Viterbo 2008, pp. 24 – 26;
CESARINI Giovanni (a cura), I Cappuccini nella Tuscia. Frati pittori ed opere d’arte per le chiese cappuccine. 1535 – 1779. Catalogo della mostra. Viterbo 2010, pp. 143;
CESARINI Giovanni – FELINI Giorgio, San Crispino da Viterbo. Apparato iconografico e immagini per devozione, Associazione San Crispino da Viterbo, Viterbo 2008, pp. 127;
D’ALATRI Mariano, San Crispino da Viterbo. Un frate penitente, gioviale e benefico, ed. L’Italia Francescana, Roma 1982, pp. 178;
D’ALATRI Mariano, I Cappuccini a Viterbo, Viterbo 1989, pp. 114;
FIORINI Giancarlo, San Crispino da Viterbo, Roma 2016, pp. 96.