THE CHURCH OF ST ANDREA APOSTOLO
The Regesto Farfense had already mentioned the existence of a Vicus Squaranus several times in the first half of the IX century, but no mention is made of a church. According to the chronicler Francesco d’Andrea, when the Farfa monks gave the area of land to the Town Council of Viterbo in 1148 so that a new quarter could be built, which subsequently became the present day Pianoscarano, it was completely uninhabited. Furthermore, the monks reserved various rights in the churches that would be built on the site in the future, including that of burial. Both D’Andrea and the other great fifteenth century chronicler of the town, Niccolò Della Tuccia, wrote that … Piano di Scarano was built in 1187 (therefore after Viterbo had been elevated to the status of a city decreed by the Emperor Federico Barbarossa in 1163, who wanted to make a Ghibelline bulwark on the main road to Papal Rome). Consequently the building of St. Andrea could only have started after this date. The first known document which mentions the church, was from 1236 when the first rector was nominated. The church must have already undergone several renovations which are partially evident in the irregularity of its iconography. The first small building with a Romanesque plan subsequently underwent a considerable enlargement with the addition of the crypt, the apses and, most probably, included an enlargement of its sides which were supported by robust counter-forts (recovered once again in the recent restorations following the bombings). These enlargements were of the new Gothic style which was rapidly spreading throughout the land of the Patrimonium Beati Petri thanks to the dedication of numerous Cistercian workmen. The Ortolani’s (Greengrocers) Guild was based here in the XIV century and had the patronage of the St. Nicola chapel while the other chapel dedicated to the Saints Peter and Paul was independent (both lost in the bombings). In the fifteenth century, the chapel of Saints Lawrence and Steven was erected under the patronage of the Speziali’s (Traders) Guild, (the main residence of this Guild since the end of the fourteenth century had been in the church and hospital of Saints Cosma and Damian outside the St. Sisto gateway). This guild commissioned the painted decorations portraying the patron saints which can still be seen on the left-hand wall of the church. At the end of the same century the existence of another altar is mentioned, dedicated to the Virgin Mary in porticali ecclesiae et iuxta duas portas. The church was then divided into holdings as a simple parish under the San Lorenzo Cathedral and went into a rapid decline. In the Sacred visit of 1574 celebrated by the Bishop Cardinale Gambara, it was declared that the ancient crypt used as a cemetery had to be closed and the sacristy and the rector’s house in the vestibule (narthex) had to be erected. In 1902, during the neo-medievalist culture which was dominant in the city of Viterbo, a restoration approved and financed by Bishop Grasselli saw the definitive renovation of the exquisite crypt which was still half sunken into and reduced to a state of decay.
The church of St. Andrea was among those which suffered serious damage during the allied bombings of 25th May, 1944. When the war was over the church was repaired and the façade, which had been completely covered by the rectory, was restored. This façade now includes the narthex, the only one of its type among the churches of Viterbo. Its entrance is through a portal flanked by two arches while another two arches can be seen on the sides, but with the right-hand one being blocked by the enlargement of the church. At the top of the façade rises a web bell tower with two bells at the top. There are some stairs on the left-hand side which lead to the secondary entrance.
The church of St. Andrea is the result of a series of several interventions which are evident in the lack of symmetry in its iconography. The present structure is the result of a radical process of restoration following the damage caused by the allied bombings in 1944, during the second world war, which necessitated about the almost complete renovation of the structure. The church has one nave characterized by a raised presbytery. The present roof presents the ancient system of roof trusses. On the left of the entrance (1) we can find the baptismal font in peperino stone which has a bottle-necked basin with eight sides. It stands on a pedestal which is also octagonal and is decorated with four-pointed stars. The basin is decorated with architectonic, floral and symbolic patterns. On the same wall hangs a painting by an unknown artist (2) datable to the XIX century which portrays the Madonna and Child showing the Sacred Heart (there was a considerable spreading of the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at the end of the eighteenth century to oppose the advance of atheism threatened by the French Revolution). The only remaining fragments of the original wall can be found on the left-hand side on the same level as the entrance to the crypt (3). There is a section of a fresco portraying the Saints Stephen and Lawrence (XVI century) from the ancient chapel of the Apothecaries at the same level as the façade and the narthex. Two staircases at the sides of the presbytery (4) lead to the crypt. This is almost entirely in its original state having escaped the effects of the disastrous bombing. This is the most interesting architectonic element in the building and the Gothic influence is particularly evident, differentiating it from the crypts of St Maria Nuova and St. Sisto which are decisively Romanesque, especially in size. It has two aisles and four spans set out in a system of fourteen stands which also support the overhang of its cross-vaulted ceiling with cross sections highlighted by circular groins. The composite system of support is made up of three columns on the central axis, four corner pillars with a recess holding a delicate column and six semi-pillars on the four walls which are composed of responds and semi-columns. The capitals are a variation of the classical Corinthian theme with leaves with stylized veins running through them, ending in narrow crochets. The bases of their obvious diversity express the essence of the medieval culture evident in the variety of the architectonic decorations. The two stands at the sides of the altar are much taller and their sides are decorated with phyto-morphic garlands. In the central apse we can see the rustic altar in peperino stone which is decorated with simple geometric designs in peperino and by the repetitive presence of decorations with phyto-morphic garlands. There is a relic of St Andrew in the chapel named after him on the right-hand side, along with a wooden crucifix of the 700s by an unknown artist. The disastrous bombings which almost completely destroyed the ancient church did not damage the crypt but caused serious damage to the roofing and, in particular, almost completely erased the exquisite thirteenth century paintings which covered the entire surface of the walls (4). Only a few fragments remain and they are difficult to decipher. On one part of the left wall the Crucifixion of St. Peter can be made out and in other parts fragments of figures of armed soldiers can be recognized which were probably part of a Christological cycle. This supposition seems to be confirmed in the decoration on the central apse where we can see the remains of frescoes which can still be deciphered in their iconographic theme. The Eucharistic Lamb flanked by tetramorphi can still be seen. St John’s Eagle (4) and Luca’s Bull are still perfectly visible. This is a theme which overshadows a sophisticated intellectualistic interpretation of the cycle portrayed and corresponds to the style of the greatest works of Roman art between the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth century which are most noted in works such as those in the Agnani crypt and the Sacred Speco of Subiaco. Back to the nave we can find the presbytery (5) which can be reached by a large staircase of ten steps leading to three apses illuminated by narrow single-lancet windows. Only an altar is located in the central apse. Symmetrically to the main apse there are two smaller apses. Apart from those already mentioned, the frescoes which can still be seen on the façade (6) are The Enthroned Madonna feeding the Child and a Madonna praying among angels which are both datable to the XIV century and are an important part of the rich pictorial decorations which have covered the walls of the church for centuries.
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