THE CHURCH OF SAINT MARTINO
Some documents tell of a coenoby existing in the area (at Casa Putida) in 838, then moved to a healthier area, as two documents from 1045 and 1048 attest. In 1145 Pope Eugene III gave the Cistercian monks of San Sulpice an abbey burdened by debts in an attempt to save the situation. After the efforts of Alexander III and Lucius III to improve the conditions of the abbey, only Pope Innocence III, which entrusted the foundation to Pontigny in 1207, had attained to have considerable improvements. The abbatial complex underwent much work and enlargements bringing about its majestic shapes. In 1225, the year of its consecration, the abbey already had its essential services. It wasn’t until the latter part of the century that the actual complex was completed with the infirmary, the library, the bakery, the repair shop, the refectory, the abbot’s apartment and the “palatium parvum”, which was adapted as a storeroom, as remembers a meticulous inventory by Abbot Enrico in 1305. The abbey’s fortune did not last for long because by 1379 it was more or less in a state of abandonment and in 1426 only the abbot and a monk were living in it. Even the attention paid to it by F. Todeschini Piccolomini, nephew of Pope Pius II, were not enough when, at the end of the fifteenth century, he approved the restoration of some of its rooms which had fallen into ruin. Its most critical year was 1564 when the last Cistercians left for good and the ownership was given to the Vatican Chapter by Pius IV. The re-birth of the abbey came about with the Pamphili family. In 1645 Pope Innocence X gave the church the title of abbey once more, thus making it independent from the Episcopal authority, and donated the “land of San Martino” to his sister-in-law Olimpia Maidalchini. With the help of famous architects (among them Borromini) she brought about a surprising transformation of the village with the building of her princely palace on the site of the old abbey. The church was completely restored and two bell-towers were built on each side as counterforts. This decidedly revolutionising work completely changed the appearance of the ancient abbatial complex: the apsidal area and the transept, a part of the cloister, some sections of the capital room and the so-called monks’ room; the groined cross-vaults and the windows.
The façade, next to the Pamphili Palace, faces west following the Cistercian tradition. It is flanked by two bell-towers which were built during the restoration work of 1651-1654 under the direction of Marcantonio De Rossi. It is square and is decorated by counterforts at the corners. There is a clock and a sundial which are both surrounded by a cuspidate cover above a double-lancet windows within a rounded archway. The main window is formed by two pointed single-lancet windows with a eight petal rosette. It is part of the arched portal whose lunette displays the crest of Innocence X: three lilies and the dove with an olive branch and the keys with the tiara. On the left-hand external side, at the height of the first span, we can find an architraved door which must have led to the lay brothers’ dormitory. Even though it has been walled over, the monks’ door decorated with a lilied cross with sprays and bunches of grapes (middle of the XIII century) can be seen on the same side at the end of the nave next to a niche.
The interior has a Latin cross design with one main aisle and two side aisles separated by three pointed arches held up by alternate cross-shaped Burgundian-type columns and pillars which incorporate the support pilasters at the ogives of the cross vault divided into four parts and groined. Two rectangular spans in the side aisles correspond to each one of the four spans in the main nave. A long cornice links the capitals of the pilasters along the wall of the central nave which receives light from a double row of five single-lancet windows. The large marble plaque ordered by the Princess Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphili in 1647 can be seen on the floor by the entrance to commemorate the merits of Cardinal Raniero Capocci, the benefactor of the building, and Cardinal F. Piccolomini, commendator in the XV century. The left aisle is in total darkness, while in the right-hand one there are some very narrow splayed windows in each span. In the second span of the right-hand aisle stands an elegant baptismal font surrounded by a wrought iron railing (1), with some works displaying the Pamphilian coat of arms with lilies and the dove with the olive twig. The crest, in the middle of the marble bowl, portrays the tiara and the pontifical keys recalling the years when the abbey was united with the Vatican Chapter (1564-1645). Fragments of a fresco showing the Baptism of Christ can be seen on the wall (2) which is all that remains of the old pictorial cycles. The crest on the capital of the first column on the right (3) of the main nave towards the altar belongs to Cardinal F. Todeschini Piccolomini who was to become Pope Pius III. In the right-hand transept, on the right-hand wall, on two columns, stands an organ built by Girolamo Priori in 1846. In the end wall, the walled-up door which is known as the ‘door of the dead’ with two windows and a rosette above it, led to the small cemetery. Next to this door, in the right chapel, a fragment of a late-Byzantine fresco (4) can be seen portraying the Madonna enthroned, the Child and a Cardinal: the inscription identifies the Cardinal as being Egidio de Torres, the benefactor of the abbey. Near there is another fragment of a fresco (5) portraying the Madonna with Child between two Saints. Some angels on clouds can be seen above this with one of the angels holding a scroll with the words “Consolatrix afflictorum” on it. The pentagonal apse receives light from a double row of single-lancet windows. The altar (6), decorated with small false arches on small smooth and spiral columns, belongs to the original Cistercian building. One of the three niches along the right-hand wall of the choir is defined by an arch with two trefoil arches inside it with a lobed rosette between two circles on top of it. On the presbytery floor (7) there are two plaques commemorating Olimpia and Girolamo Pamphili. In the left-hand transept,(8) covered by a ribbed vault divided in six parts, the oldest part of the building, used to stand the old sacristy door which has now been walled up. It had a profferlo staircase leading to it which also led to the monks dormitory through a communicating room. The ex voto, which are now in the Museum, used to be kept here. A nineteenth century painting (9) of the Madonna of the Rosary can be seen in the second chapel on the left. In the left-hand aisle near the entrance we can see two standards of the Holy Sacrament Confraternity and of the Saint Rosary Confraternity (10) (from 1894 and 1940 respectively). Both depict the Madonna with Child, St Domenic, St Martin, with The Last Supper in the back.
THE CLOISTER AND THE ABBATIAL ROOMS
The only reminders from the original Cistercian cloister are three arches and a transversal beam holding up a rampant counterfort in the part where the left wing of the transept continues. The capitulary room is on the same side and is also known as the “Camera del Trebbio”, underneath the old dormitory. Re-built in the XVI-XVII century, it was decorated with stuccos and frescoes portraying some Pamphilian Castles, which were painted in the lunettes along with as some mythological and grotesque scenes in the webs of the cross vaults; the Borrominian style black and white floor can still be seen along with the crest of Ottaviano Riario Visconti, the Bishop of Viterbo (1506-1523) which is in the intrados. Two doors (one of which is now walled-up) along the right wall led to the Armarium (the library) and the old sacristy. Other rooms on the east side included the Locutorium (the parlour), which was removed during the work approved by Donna Olimpia Maidalchini in order to form a passageway to the square behind it, known as Theatre Square; and the entrance hall to what was probably the monks’ room, transformed into a stable by the Pamphili family. Another reminder of the ancient building is the door that opens out on the West side, underneath the palace which is marked by a cross between two flowers within a trefoil arch which led to the “palatium parvum”.
THE ABBOT’S MUSEUM
This museum was established in 2000 in the old scriptorium or monks’room and is full of religious objects. The collection includes vestments, among which the chasubles donated by Donna Oimpia to her cousin who became Pope Innocence X in 1644, a silver cross (XIII century); reliquaries in silver and wood; goblets; pyxes; crucifixes; lavabos; an ex voto on canvas portraying the church and the village (1644); a portrait of Innocence X attributed to either Bernini or the Velasquez school. The aforementioned double-faced standard was created by Mattia Preti on 1650 on behalf of the Holy Sacrament Confraternity (11). On the back we can see St Martin on horseback in the act of donating his cape to a poor man while, on the front there is the Eucharistic Christ between two angels. This work was donated by the Pamphili family as documented by the presence of their family crests.
AA. VV., Tuscia Viterbese, vol. I, Roma, 1968.
F. Bussi, Istoria della città di Viterbo, Roma, 1742.
Attilio Carosi, Chiese di Viterbo, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1995.
Dizionario della Pittura e dei Pittori, Torino, Einaudi, 1989.
F. Egidi, Guida della città di Viterbo e dintorni, Viterbo, 1889.
Italo Faldi, Mostra di restauri, in “L’arte nel viterbese”, Viterbo, 1965.
Italo Faldi, Museo Civico di Viterbo. Dipinti e sculture dal Medioevo al XVIII secolo, Viterbo, 1955.
Italo Faldi, Pittori viterbesi di cinque secoli, Roma, 1970.
Italo Faldi, Restauri acquisti e acquisizioni al patrimonio artistico di Viterbo, catalogo, Viterbo, Palazzo dei Priori, 1972.
Augusto Gargana, Viterbo. Itinerario di Augusto Gargana, Viterbo, 1939.
Il 1400 a Roma e nel Lazio. Il 1400 a Viterbo, cat. mostra, Roma, De Luca Editore, 1983.
La pittura in Italia, Milano, Electa, 1989.
A. Muñoz, Uno sguardo al nuovo Museo Civico di Viterbo, in “Per l’inaugurazione del Museo Civico di Viterbo”, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1912, pp. 33- 45.
G. Oddi, Le arti in Viterbo, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1882.
Cesare Pinzi, I principali monumenti di Viterbo. Guida pel visitatore, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1911.Cesare Pinzi, Storia della città di Viterbo, voll. I-III, Roma, 1887/89, vol. IV, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1913.
A. Scriattoli, Viterbo nei suoi monumenti, Roma, 1915-20.
Giuseppe Signorelli, Viterbo nella storia della Chiesa, Viterbo, 1907-1969.
Mario Signorelli, Guida di Viterbo. Monumenti del centro cittadini, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1964.
Mario Signorelli, Storia breve di Viterbo, Viterbo, Agnesotti, 1964
Simona Valtieri, La genesi umana di Viterbo, Roma, 1977.
Bastianelli Colombo, S. Martino al Cimino: venerabile confraternita del SS. Sacramento e S. Rosario di S. Martino al Cimino, Viterbo 1999.
Palmieri Lidia, Aspetti dell’architettura gotica a Viterbo: l’abbazia di S. Martino al Cimino e monumenti che a questa si ricollegano. Tesi di laurea.