THE CHURCH OF SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA (also known as DEL GONFALONE)
The church is a noteworthy example of the Baroque of Viterbo. It was built under the directions of the Gonfalone Confraternity from which it takes its present name, even though its historical dedication is to the precursor of Christ. This Brotherhood is one of the most important ones in town for both the wealth of its brothers and for its numerous properties. Its origins are extremely old. As the Venerable Company of Saint John the Baptist from the XII century, it used to meet in an Oratory in Contrada Valle, but in 1561 it joined the Roman Confraternity of the Gonfalone, founded by Saint Bonaventura of Bagnoregio, taking on his name, insignia and dress of white sackcloth with a cross. One of its aims was to collect funds to pay the ransoms of the Christian prisoners being held by the Turks as well as providing a dowry for two decent orphan girls. When the old Oratory in Valle was no longer suitable for the needs of the Confraternity, a piece of land was bought in 1664 on which a new church could be built. The first stone was laid by Cardinal Francesco Maria Brancaccio on December 21st, 1665. It was designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Baratta of Rome, a student of Borromini, and the church was built by masters and builders from Viterbo along with artists from Viterbo who decorated the interior. It took about sixty years to complete, but in the last decade of the XVII century it was already being used as the Oratory of the Brothers who also, at that time, gained the right to be buried there. The façade had still not been finished because the plan was very laborious and so a new design by the architect Francesco Ferruzzi of Rome was chosen. He was commissioned in the month of January, 1725 and the church was completed in the following year.
The façade has a slightly concave design and is divided in two halves by a substantial truss with two flames in the shape of lamps at each end. The portal is reached by eight steps and has peperino stone edges with two crests above it. The largest of these is decorated by festoons and shows the coat of arms of Benedict XIII, while the other belongs to Bishop Sermattei. There is a stone groin on each side while other angulated ones give strength to its profile. In the upper part we can see a large round window within a rectangular frame. The decorative theme of groins is repeated in the upper part and on the closing truss there are four torch-holders. Counter-forts on each side hold up the upper walls. The square bell-tower is incorporated in the main building on the left-hand side.
This church presents itself in two parts which are more or less identical. The main altar and two columns separate the church with one part being for the parishioners while the oratory is reserved for the brothers with a project plan which confirms the specific destination of the temple for the brotherhood’s own use. The interior of the church is richly decorated, following the baroque guidelines, with symbolic portrait, allegories, figures of the prophets and episodes from the Gospel and the imposing perspective figures created by Giuseppe Marzetti of Viterbo. The whole pictorial construction appears to be being held up at the four corners by gigantic figures of symbols of strength. The powerful images of the Prophets Isaiah (1) and Abdia painted in light and shade effects by Domenico Corvi of Viterbo in 1756 appear on the sides, in the middle, in two ovals held by angels. St John the Baptist before Herod can be seen in the lunette of the main altar (2). This work of art was by a local artist, Anton Angelo Falaschi (1756). At the entrance (3) in the lunette above the organ, we can see fresco of the Decapitation of the Baptist painted by Domenico Corvi in the same year. The pictorial complex converges in the arched ceiling, where Vincenzo Stringelli of Viterbo masterfully painted (4) the Empireo in (1756) a splendid representation with groups of angels and blessed souls on clouds outstretched towards the celestial light. On the first altar on the right (5) stand two processional statues of the Passion and in the next chapel down (6), above the altar in plaster and stone by Domenico Lucchi hangs an altar cloth portraying St Bonaventura writing inspired by the Holy Spirit ( XVIII century). In the two false niches on each side of the main altar, Sebastiano Carelli of Montefiascone painted two monochrome figures (7) in 1772 representing Science and Religion. The altar (8) of 1746 is by the architect Nicola Salvi, the designer of the Trevi Fountain in Rome (and also of the restorations carried out in the church and in the Convent of Santa Maria in Gradi). The yellow veined marble frontal with green and red edging has the symbol of the Confraternity in its centre. The canopied shrine with marble columns terminates in a cusp with a cross on top. The Oratory houses the magnificent Confraternity Standard (9) painted on both sides by Giovan Francesco Romanelli of Viterbo, the painter of Re Sole. The standard represents the Baptism of Christ and the Madonna of Mercy (1649). The wooden choir stalls created by Carlantonio Morini of Viterbo (1833-34) stand on both sides. On the walls above these, among decorative monochromatic motives by Maestro Pietro Piazza (1747) of Rome and his compatriot Giuseppe Rosa, hangs a series of six light and shade paintings portraying episodes from the life of the Baptist. From the left we can see the Angel and Zachariah, John in the desert, God ordering the mission, John reproaching Herod, the Lamb of God, the Decapitation. In the same year Giuseppe Rosa painted in monochrome the webs, the corner panels of the ceiling, the sides of the lunette with angels and symbolic figures on clouds, puttos in flight. He also painted the large fresco in the vault (10) in which we can see the Birth of the Baptist in bright colours and a crowded scene with St John’s Preaching in the lunette by the altar. The portrayal (11) of the Omnipotent on the lunette in the apse can also realistically be attributed to the same artist. There is a painting by an unknown artist (12) which had once hung in the church of San Silvestro and which portrays the Death of St. Anna ( XVII century). On the next altar down which was created by Domenico Lucchi (13), we can see the Madonna of the Annunciation, of unknown artist, of the middle of the XVIII century. In the last chapel (14) stands a painted wooden Crucifix which has not been dated. The beautiful wooden inner door of the XVIII century from Saint Francesco stands under the chancery.
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