THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA VERITA’
This building and its foundation was originally dedicated to Saint. Macario, but according to hearsay and without documentation to prove otherwise, it was founded by regular Premonstratensian monks in XIII century. The same sources say that the monks abandoned the new foundation to move to Rome in 1231. A few decades later the complex was used by the Order of the Servi di Maria (Servants of Mary) who gave it the new name of Santa Maria della Verità. In the middle of the XIV century the building underwent an enlargement around the presbytery area with the creation of a semicircular apse where the choir would be. The work was sponsored by the Bussi family as documented by the crest and writing on the keystone. In 1446 news spread of a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary in front of three children inside the church. The miracle brought about the conversion of the church into a sanctuary with the consequent increase of donations being made. That contributed to the richness in the decoration of the church. The miracle of the “Verità” marked the beginning of a renewed interest in the church which then became a privileged place for bequests, offerings and recognitions in honour of the Virgin. The wealthy families chose it, and had chapels and altars erected, some of which can still be seen today. Among the notables we remember Nardo Mazzatosta, the owner of the celebrated chapel painted by Lorenzo da Viterbo and Luciano Bussi (whose name can be seen on the cross in the presbytery) who was the guarantor for the payment of the chasubles and other religious furniture granted to the convent in 1476. The main corporations of Viterbo chose this church for their religious functions, for example the stonemasons erected a chapel in 1468 and the linen and wool weavers prayed in the Assumption chapel, while the Crucifix chapel was used by the builders. The church was also a meeting place for brotherhoods and confraternities, some of them “foreign”. There is mention of a “Theutonicorum” chapel and one belonging to the “Corsorum Society”. The Guizzi family, who had commissioned the large Pastura altar-piece with the Nativity, were from Corsica. Most of these chapels are now closed off and only their peperino arches can be seen in the walls. In 1657, owing to the plague which wiped out many members of the community, the walls of the church were consequently whitewashed, causing irreversible damage to the artwork. In 1867, the monks were, against their will, at the centre of acts of violence. In 1873 the convent was confiscated by the state agents following the suppression of religious congregations. On 16th June 1912 the church hosted the museum of the archaeological objects which had been kept in the Palazzo dei Priori since 1888. In January 1944 the whole building was severely damaged by an allied air raid. In September 1955 the museum was re-opened but this time in the rooms of the convent. On 19th March 1961 the church resumed its religious functions as the parish of Santa Maria della Verità.
In 1987 the precarious conditions of the ex-convent brought about the prolonged closure of the museum. Today the external façade, which had been rebuilt after the bombings of the second world war along with most of the building, is simple in style and has little of artistic interest. It is covered in peperino slabs with a sixteenth century door in the middle and an empty lunette above it between two stone statues (the two statues represent the Announcing Angel and the Madonna of the Annunciation but were installed facing outwards instead of looking at each other, owing to a mistake made by the restorers.) along with a large round window in the centre.
The great Latin-cross shape hall mostly fits in with the restorations carried out during the second half of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century. The transept opens up with a large pointed arch standing on pensile columns. The roof is trussed and decorated by painted panels which have mostly been renovated. The original panels were from the late fifteenth century and were painted by Paolo di Matteo. In the contra-façade, on the left of the inner door hangs a fifteenth century fresco on canvas attributed to Balletta taken from the same wall, portraying the Annunciation between St Mary Magdalene, St Martha and St Anthony. The first altar on the right, which at the moment has only one arch in peperino stone, hosts a modern statue of the Holy Heart (1). It was erected by the Guizzi family. The original altarpiece was painted by the Pastura and portrayed the Nativity (which is now kept in the Civic Museum). Next to this stands the wonderful Mazzatosta chapel (2). It still has its original wrought iron railing and a part of the fifteenth century floor in majolica tiles by the ceramist Paolo di Nicola of Viterbo. The chapel was commissioned around the middle of the fifteenth century by Nardo Mazzatosta. The pictorial decorations are by Lorenzo da Viterbo and his pupils in 1469. The scenes portraying Mary were destroyed by the bombing raids and the Central Institute for Restoration carried out a restoration work that was both innovative and revolutionary, following the theories of Brandi here applied for the first time. Along the walls that define the hall we can find the remains of shaped jambs in peperino stone with an arch surrounded by a cornice belonging to the St. Girolamo chapel (3). Immediately after, the peperino structures stands the so-called chapel “of the Germans” (Theutonicorum) (4), which had then been passed on to the Corsican corporation of the linen weavers with its dedication to the Saints Giacomo and Filippo Benizi (founder of the Servite Order). The Maestro Pancrazio Jacovetti da Calvi was commissioned by them to create an altarpiece with the Mystic Wedding of St Catherine which can now be found in the Civic Museum.
The monumental organ with mechanical transmission stands at the opening to the right-hand transept: This was commissioned by the Viterbo Tourism Board and built by Guido Pinchi from Foligno in 1986 following the project by Luigi Celeghin. The chapel at the end of this part of the transept (already dedicated to St. Sebastian) belonged to the Spreca family. They commissioned some paintings in 1591 and of these an image of the Madonna with Child (5) can still be seen on the right-hand wall. A canvas portraying the Immaculate Conception from the late seventeenth-century attributed to Ludovico Mazzanti (6) stands on the Baroque altar. In the left-hand transept ending in a fifteenth-century rounded arch, before the sacristy, we can see the remains of some frescoes from the XVI century. The Bishop among Angels (7) and the Madonna Lactans (8) can be seen on the right wall where the Assumption chapel used to be. In the left-hand one there are three paintings with remarkably elegant frames portraying St Fabian Pope between St Sebastian and St Rocco (9), the Trinity (10) and St Francis receiving the Stigmata (11). The remains of the Lombard chapel can be found along the left-hand wall of the church (12). It was dedicated to Saint Ambrose and its altar was the work of the Florentine Maestros Pietro and Sebastiano d’Antonio, as were the other altars along that side. It was erected by the Builders’ Guild Corporation which commissioned the painting of the Disposition of the Cross by the Maestro Costantino di Jacopo Zelli of Viterbo which is also kept in the Civic Museum. The painted decoration of the church also includes the modest sixteenth-century chapel on the left-hand side. There is a Madonna enthroned between St John the Baptist and St. Anthony the Abbot (13), which was apparently painted by at least two Maestros reminding us of the Perugian style. There is an inset in the painting with a representation of some woodcutters at work dated 1611. This confirms the close connection between the Santa Maria della Verità complex and the corporations of the townspeople. Some fragments of the pictorial decorations can still be seen on the walls which were decorations in the chapels between the end of the XIII century and the beginning of the XIV, before the church was renovated during the Renaissance. The Renaissance altars created by the Florentine brothers Pietro and Sebastiano d’Antonio at the end of the XV century had prevented the ancient chapel from being seen or included in the liturgical acts. During the necessary restorations following the damage caused by the bombings of 1944, the broken figure of Michael Archangel on the left-hand post was partially brought to light. The Civic Museum of Viterbo is housed in the former convent next to the church. Its square Gothic cloister is remarkable with its elegant multi-light windows on the ground floor (renovated in the XIV century) and upper arcade which is a result of a renovation during the Renaissance. There is a cistern in the middle of the square dated at 1536, which was originally in the Saint Augustine monastery which was subsequently destroyed.
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