THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DEL PARADISO
The church, outside of the wall, is in the area of the ancient vico Soffiano. The first mention of the monastery complex dedicated to Saint Maria del Paradiso (Initially, it included the Blessed Virgin in the title). It dates back to 1268 when it was officiated by a group of Cistercian monks, depending on the powerful abbey of Farfa. The Cisterians, arrived from France in the wake of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), abandoned the church in 1276. They were replaced by the order of the Cardinal Giovanni da Toledo by the nuns of the same order born in Clairvauz in the reform Benedictine Rule desired by Saint Bernardo. Traces of the original 13th century church remain in the apse, which resembles the abbey of Saint Martino. The principal elements of the Cistercian monastic buildings include the latin cross church, acute arch, barrel vaults structured with bricks, ribbed vaults, choir flanked by straight radial chapels and cloister. These elements, built on a square and covered with ribbed vaults, later replaced by barreled vaults, qualify the ancient Chiesa del Paradiso and the ancient monastery as Cistercian buildings. In 1439 the complex was given to Frati Minori Francescani, becoming the center of most important diffusion of the Franciscan apostolate all over the area, according to a prerogative that was conserved also after the separation of the branch of the Osservanza, when the Conventuali order arrived. They remained here until the post-united expropriations took place and operated several restorations, producing the almost total transformation of the church. The construction of the side chapel, on the right side it has two vertical altars, of which one in 1525 was enhanced of the famous Flagellation of Sebastian of Piombo. Between 1726 and 1729 a new bell tower was risen. The two bells that as far as 1729 played on the old bell tower, that was the type of veil and was placed next to the new sacristy, were transferred to the new bell tower. The two bells were considered insufficient and in 1748 with the contribution of monks the fusion of another medium bell was ordered. In 1820 the church was reconstructed, but then was closed to worship on July 18, 1876. In total state of abandonment, in February 1930 all the structure was transformed into barracks. The paintings all were transferred to the Museo Civico: the Flagellation of Sebastian of Piombo, a portait of S. Bernardino of Siena of Sound of Peter (1406-1481), the Sacred Family with S. Carlo Borromeo and S. Filippo Neri di Angelo Pucciati, already placed on the first altar to the left of the church and the fresco of the opening under the main door, by Antonio del Massaro. After the air bombing in 1944 the church was reopened in 1945 when the main marble altar was completed, while in 1950 the restoration of the floor started. In 1960 the church returned to Frati Minori Osservati di San Francesco and in 1961 was restored to care of the Ordine Francescano. In November 1999 a few monks that lived in the convent were moved away, today part of the building hosts the Economic faculty of Università della Tuscia.
The front is a double slope, made with irregular peperino stones. At the center, on the top part, stands out the great circular rose window, embellished of a double centering which original style is repeated on the arch of the portal to all curves, to which entered by means of wide steps. Reconstructed after WWII (1959-1963), the front repeats faithfully the lines of that original of 8th Century. At the left of the main entrance the tombstone, made in XIX century, remembers the privilege granted to the altar of the previous Pope Gregorio XIII in 1583 able to free the souls of Purgatory. The bell tower, a section square and with blunt angular, presents on each side a gothic arch. The pillars supporting a trabeation with over hangs mixtilinear strongly projecting. The bell tower ends with a dome bricks on polygon drum with rectangular window.
A smooth frieze, overflowing a frame a dentelli that runs long the wall of the only nave of the church, separates the tunnel vault. Here it assumed the form of a lintel, supported by two pairs of columns, in correspondence of each of four side altars. The walls are marked of a Via Crucis in bronze and stone by a Siena sculptor Roberto Ioppolo, born in 1931, that he had performed in 1982. On the altar to the immediate right of the entrance, there is a small processional shrine made between the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century, with the central painting of the Madonna in Paradise, while immediately in front, on the opposite side is placed a confessional. On the two following altars, close to the presbytery, on the right side there is the statue representing S. Francesco, to left side the one representing S. Giuseppe with Baby Jesus. On the right wall of the sanctuary there is a tombstone which was previously placed near the altar of the Crucifix that brings back the text of the papal bull with which in 1583 Gregorio XIII granted the privilege of power to free the souls of Purgatory. The bigger marble altar, made in 1945, was overpowered of a wooden crucifix of the 16th Century. In 1950 the restoration of the floor completed and in front of the bigger altar in remembrance it was written “Holy Year 1950”. The Basin of the apsis was decorated in 1984 with a fresco painting of Antonio Cerica, inspired by the theme of forgiveness and of reconciliation. Beyond the actual apsis, through two small side entries, there is the gothic apsis of the church. In the past it was the most used part of the church used by of maxim the monastic nuns for their activities, the old chorus polygon conserves the thin small columns in stone to which the stalls for the nuns were placed. The branches of the rib converge at the center of the ceiling, exactly in the point in which a small circular skylight opens. A marble basin, originally placed in the church of S. Tommaso, was walled up in the first right column, perhaps collected in 1511, at the same time at the opening of the space that gives access to the sacristy, so as to clarify the date carved on the molding of the door: SACRISTIA MDXI. On the walls there is a Via Crucis, to the right, next to the altar, is a figure of the Madonna, and then a relief representing the Baptism of Christ, and a face painted of Christ, to the left side there is a wooden crucifix and other small figures representing Jesus. Opposite to the entrance of the sacristy a small altar with image of the Madonna of the Rosary can be seen in a niche. Finally in the niche of the wall at the bottom a statue of S. Antonio with the Infant Jesus is placed, while at the top a great painting that depicts the Immaculate Conception stands out.
SANTA MARIA DEL PARADISO, Santa Maria del Paradiso Church
Traduzione di Danielle Maddock, University of Nevada, Alicia Bertram, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Veronika Melnick Seattle University. Programma USAC presso Università degli Studi della Tuscia.
P.G. Zucconi; S. Maria del Paradiso in Viterbo, Roma 1971.
L.P. Monelli; Viterbo, in Enciclopedia dell’Arte Medievale, XI, Milano 2000, pp. 705-717.
L.P. Monelli; Chiesa e convento di Santa Maria del Paradiso, in Il centro storico di Viterbo, a cura di M.G. Gimma, Betagamma Editrice, Viterbo 2001, pp. 336-237.
M. Galeotti; L’illustrissima Città di Viterbo, Edizioni Studio Pubblicitario Viterbese, Viterbo 2002, pp. 218-225.