THE CHURCH OF SANT’ANGELO IN SPATHA
According to the historian Cesare Pinzi, this church was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel and it was already mentioned in a famous bull by Pope Leone IV to Bishop Virobono of Tuscania dated back to 850 but which had in fact been drawn up in the chancellery of Pope Innocence III between the end of the XII century and the beginning of the XIII century. Saint Angelo in Spatha – according to Mario Signorelli – took its name from the Spatha family which had its patronage in 1045 through their ancestor Giovanni.; the first mention of it dates back to the XI century when, in 1078, it was founded by Pietro Abate and in 1092, when it was erected in a collegiate by Riccardo, Bishop of Tuscania. This structure probably had a Romanesque shape with a Lombard matrix, with a central nave and two side aisles culminating in three apses, covered with a trussed roof. A plaque states that on the 8th May, 1145, Eugene III consecrated the church after it had undergone considerable restoration and improvements. In May 1387 the local people rebelled against Francesco di Vico, the tyrant of Viterbo and on the 8th May a bloody battle ensued in the Piazza del Comune. The rebels were not able to make the authorities retreat beyond the limits of the Square defined by the porch of S. Angelo until a flag, which had been erected especially for the festival of the Archangel, fell from the bell tower. The rebels interpreted this as a sign from God and it gave them the strength to force the retreat of Di Vico’s militia, who was subsequently captured and killed. To celebrate the people’s victory, the Town Council declared that every year the event would be commemorated with official festivities. In 1549 the bell tower, which had never been repaired after that event, collapsed and caused serious damage to the façade and porch. The entire façade was reconstructed in 1560 during the pontificate of Pope Pius IV. Two centuries later, in 1746, the complete restoration of the church began. The structure was knocked down and rebuilt, leaving only a part of the original external structure which can still be seen today. The church underwent extensive restoration works during 2006. This work included the painting of the pilasters and columns with a travertine “uncial” colour while the lower parts of the walls and the sides were painted pale-blue-grey. The new lighting system highlights the architectonic structures. The old floor was replaced with grey and white Carrara marble tiles in the form of diamonds. The plaster underneath was demolished and a new dry wall plaster was set. An iron staircase was created which leads to the chancery along with a new glass inner door. The main door has been completely restored and the side doors have been replaced by new ones.
The façade is hut-shaped and has been covered in plaster during the recent restorations. It has a portal in peperino stone with a lunette over its architrave and three windows with the figure of Saint. Michael the Archangel portrayed in the central one. Three emblems in peperino stone sit on the top of each window. The one in the middle shows the coat of arms of Pius IV Medici while the others represent the Deputy Legate Piccolomini Baldini and the Town Council of Viterbo. On the right hand side of the façade there used to be an exquisite Roman sarcophagus portraying scenes of wild boar hunting which served as the tomb of the “Bella Galiana” (1). In its place we can now see the Funari brothers’ copy of it while the original sarcophagus is preserved in the Viterbo Town Museum. This legendary episode tells of a maiden who was so beautiful that men came to Viterbo in great numbers just in the hope of being able to admire her from afar. A Roman Baron fell in love with her and offered her his hand in marriage but was turned down. Consequently, the nobleman decided to place Viterbo under siege, but the town defended the young girl and resisted for so long that the besieger gave in. However, before leaving the town forever, the Baron asked to see the Bella Galiana appear on the tower, which now bears her name, one last time. She was killed by an arrow from her rejected admirer’s bow. The people of Viterbo honoured the maiden whom they considered to be a glorious member of their community by laying her corpse in a lavish sepulchre in the porch of the church of Sant’Angelo. Two epigraphs from the XVI century commemorate this legendary tale. To the right of the church in a narrow alley we can see the remains of the walls of the original church, two walled-up doors, a single-lancet window and a lunette which still bears the trace of a fresco of the Madonna with the Child between two Saints (the saint on the left bearing the insignia of the Episcopal dignity), an arched door framed by a cornice, counter-forts and support arches across the lane. At the end of the alley an eighteenth century bell tower is still standing.
Entrance into the church is through a vestibule (the only one remaining in the churches of Viterbo) which is decorated with marble and stucco decorations. A small image of San Michael the Archangel (2) can be seen on its ceiling. In the right-hand cavity (3) two epigraphs in gothic letters can be made out. These were uncovered during the 1746 restoration and they record the presence of the relics of the Saints Savino, Eugene, Peter of Alexandria, Vittore, Boniface and Corona, which had been hidden by the Prior Bartholomew and found again in 1254. On the left wall there is a rounded marble bowl from the Roman period which is today used as a baptismal font. The church has one nave which is covered with barrel vaults broken up by five large windows. It has a square transept in front of the square-shaped presbytery and three chapels open out on each side. The chancel is above the entrance. As a whole, the building has the appearance of a late-Baroque and neoclassical style. The apse has been rebuilt after having been damaged by the bombings of 1944. The walls are adorned by a series of small 18th century oil paintings on canvas illustrating the Via Crucis. In the first chapel on the right (4) with bare stone walls and a single-lancet window left over from the original building, there is a wooden altar where you can find the marble statue of the Sacred Heart .The painting of Madonna with Child by Andrea di Giovanni (XV century) also belongs here but it is currently being restored and will soon be placed in the ferial chapel which is still undergoing restoration. ( the third chapel on the left). In the chapel next to this (5), there is an altar-piece by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi of Viterbo portraying St. Isidore the Farmer ( XVII century). The patina of age prevents the full appreciation of the detailed landscape in the background which portrays the Angel pushing a plough. The third chapel (6) is characterised by a baroque altar in peperino stone covered by several crests. This altar surrounds a wooden crucifix which, according to tradition, was taken away from the town of Ferento after its destruction in 1172 by the people of Viterbo- recent studies have, however, estimated it to be dated at the year 1300. On the right, at the entrance to the presbytery (7), there is a beautiful plaque written in gothic letters which celebrates the consecration of the church by Eugene III (1145), naming the altars and relics that were in the church at that time. The main altar table (8) stands on a large Romanesque stone capital which was in the original church. On the end wall there is a marble tabernacle on another capital which is very similar to the one holding up the altar. This is covered by a large altar-piece created by the Master Filippo Caparozzi of Viterbo ( from the first decade of 1600s) (9), portraying the Madonna enthroned with Child being crowned by Angels and the Saints Michael Archangel stepping on Lucifer, Peter, Savino, Paul and Eugene. The walls in the sacristy, which can be reached by going through the left transept (10), are covered by beautiful wooden panels that stand at about three metres high. A table portraying St. Rocco created by Antonio del Massaro, the so-called Pastura (XV-XVI century) is placed on a wooden baroque altar with ionic columns holding up the corner fragments of an ornamental mantelpiece. In the adjoining parish offices (11) there is a large window with a beautiful marble display dated at 1685; canvases hang on the walls portraying Saint Liborio in glory ascending to heaven on a cloud by the Viterbian artist Giovan Francesco Bonifazi (XVII century) and St. Carlo Borromeo in ecstasy and Saint Filippo Neri at prayer, which are both attributed to Vincenzo Bareolo from Vigevano who painted them in1614. There is also a wooden crucifix with gilding (1800) which came from the church of Saint Giacomo. There are no particular noteworthy works of art in the chapels on the left-hand side of the church, with the exception of the last one (12), where there is a picture of St Gabriel of Sorrows and a wooden Baroque altar (late XVII-early XVIII century) with spiral columns decorated with sprigs and bunches of grapes and decorations in fine gold with two golden angels sitting on the cusps.
Selvaggini Alessandro, Chiesa collegiata di S. Angelo in Viterbo, Viterbo 1963.
Pinzi Cesare, Guida dei principali monumenti di Viterbo, Roma 1889.