THE CHURCH OF ST MARIA DELLA QUERCIA
The structure was built between the end of the XV century and 1530 on the site of a country church. Its erection was an act of devotion by the people of Viterbo to the image of the Madonna with Child. It was commissioned by Battista Juzzante to Mastro Martello, known as il Monetto,, who painted it on a tile. The devoted consignor set the image among the branches of an oak tree to protect his estate and very soon the green shrine became a reference point for passers-by on their way to Bagnaia and the Cimini woods. Popular chronicles tell of a series of prodigious miracles connected to the sacred image, such as the vanquishing of the plague which infested the Viterbian countries in 1467. On August 28th of that year, the devotees made a pilgrimage to the oak tree with the tile to pray to the Virgin. The plague was suddenly tamed. On the 20th of September the Priors of Viterbo, accompanied by the various guilds, went to the place for the solemn giving of thanks. This led to the building of the church and the graveyard in 1468 with a dormitory, refectory, vegetable garden and storerooms. It was entrusted to the Jesuits of Siena and subsequently the complex which we can see today was given to the Dominicans by the Pope Paul II. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Giovan Francesco De Gambara, the Bishop of Viterbo, on the 8th of April 1578.
The façade in peperino stone and smooth rustication, which ends in a tympanum with two lions at the side of an oak tree, has a central oculus between two side ones and three portals, whose jamb are decorated with candelabra The lunettes hold precious glazed terracottas by A. della Robbia (1503). On the left we can see St Peter Martyr and two Angels. In the middle the Madonna and Child and the Saints Dominic and Lawrence; and St Thomas of Aquino on the right. The crest of Giulio II is above the central lunette, under whose pontificate the church was erected. The middle door is in solid oak. It was restored in 1620 by Giovanni di Bernardino da Viterbo and Domenico da Fiorenzuola (1506). The large flight of steps has two columns and two pillars at the top for the placing of movable sceneries for the performances of religious plays, as was the trend during the Renaissance. The bell-tower with its three orders was built by Ambrogio from Milano and finished in 1505. Some bulls and briefs of popes who conceded privileges and favours to the Sanctuary are engraved at the base of the bell-tower. To the right of the façade at a certain height there is a balcony, the Loggia delle Benedizioni, protected with a wrought iron railing. This work was by Maestro Vincenzo of Viterbo, who created it in 1483.
The interior has one nave and two side aisles divided up by arches held up by two rows of columns, mostly the creation of Giuliano from Sangallo. The pendentives of the arches were decorated by Cesare Nebbia in 1601 with the images of the Twelve Apostles (1). The main nave, divided into two orders by a cornice held up by brackets, is covered by a ceiling of lacunars by Antonio from Sangallo the Younger (1519-1521). In 1535 Paul III had it covered with the gold arrived from the new world and donated by the Emperor Charles V of Spain. The ceiling portrays the image of the Madonna della Quercia, the crest of Paul III and the lion which is the symbol of Viterbo. The side aisles are covered with trusses. The paintings in the presbytery and the dome were carried out by the Maestros Gavardini and Prosperi (1867). In the right-hand aisle above the inner door hangs a XVII century canvas of St Peter Martyr by Anton Angelo Bonifazi. On the first altar we can find an altar-piece with a XVII century image of the Dominican Raimondo de PeÅˆafort (2). The terracotta on the baptistery is by D. Massi (1970) and above this there is a tablet (3) of the XVII century, attributed to F. Caparozzi, portraying the Madonna and Child. The second altar (4) is decorated by a canvas of the Mystical wedding of St Catherine, by G. Ventura Borghesi (1698). The Noli me tangere which hangs above the confessional (5) is by Maestro Brother Bartolomeo Della Porta (1512). On the third altar (6) we can see St Vincenzo Ferreri by the Viterbian G. M. Mari (1724). Further down there is an anonymous painting portraying The Seven Founder Brothers of the Servants of Maria (XVIII c.). The XVII century organ, whose choir was donated by Cardinal Peretti from Montalto, can be found at the end of the right-hand aisle (7). Under the organ a plaque commemorates the title of basilica given by Pius IX on the fourth centenary of the first miracles of the Madonna della Quercia. Next to the organ hangs a piece of fabric from a Turkish ship which dates back to the Battle of Civitavecchia (1695), donated by A. D. Bussi, a Knight of Malta. Above a beautiful XVII c. tablet of the Sienese school portraying the Mater Divinae Gratiae. The canvas over the altar to the right of the high altar (8) is a copy of G. Reni’s St Michael Archangel by Franco Picchioni. The entrance to the sacristy can be found in the right-hand aisle. It is furnished with XVII c. wardrobes in walnut and is decorated with XVII c. paintings and leads to the cloister. The most important work of art is the marble tempietto in the presbytery (9) by Andrea Bregno in 1490. It holds the oak tree and the miraculous image of the Madonna and Child painted on a tile in 1417 by Maestro Martello (10). This structure is divided lengthways by four pilasters decorated with candelabra and, horizontally, by cornices which define three different orders. A nativity scene can be seen in the lowest one with two Worshipping Angels in the side panels. In the central one, the image of the Virgin, and the figures of the Saints John the Baptist, Lawrence, Peter and Paul. In the last one we can see a lunette with two torch holders above a tympanum where the Benedictory Eternal and the Dove of the Holy Spirit are represented. The sides of the temple were painted around the second half of the XVI c. by Maestro M. Tosini, who was a student of the Ghirlandaio, with the figures of St. Thomas of Aquino and St Vincenzo Ferreri, on the left, St Dominic and St. Peter Martyr, on the right. The doors, which open up beneath these, were created by R. Joppolo (XX c.) and lead to the oak tree with the miraculous tile. On the wall behind, between St Catherine of Siena St Antonino, one of the Madonna’s miracles is portrayed; the Knight made invisible to escape from assailants who wanted him dead. On the lower part of the wall we can see some parts of the bombs which were dropped in the area on the 20th January, 1944. In the Choir vault (11) there is a roundel of the Madonna della Quercia between St Dominic and St Lawrence created at the beginning of the XVI c. by Maestro M. Trofi, also known as the Truffetta, and re-done in the XIX c. The stalls in walnut were made by F. di Domenico di Zanobio del Tasso and G. di Giovanni, also known as the Pollastra at the beginning of the XVI c. The lectern dates back to 1574. The altar (12), decorated with stuccos and statues from the late 1500s (by Pompeo and Michele Alberti), is covered with an altar-piece depicting the Coronation of the Virgin and saints from pictures by Brother Bartolomeo della Porta with paintings by Brother Paolino da Pistoia (1514-1534) and M. Albertinelli. A wooden cross of the XIV c. hangs above the left-hand altar (13). The windows in the transept, above the canvas portraying St Peter Martyr (attributed to Pompeo Bartoni), are decorated. Under the window hangs a plaque commemorating Cardinal G. F. da Gambara. A crib can be seen in the Sacred Heart Chapel all year round with small figures by artists of the XVII c. from Lucca and Florence (14). The canvas on the right of the altar portrays Peter saved from the waters by Giacinto Brandi. The painting on the left-hand side depicts the Ascension by Romanelli. On the lunette the Eternal Father is portrayed. Further along the left-hand aisle we can see (15) a canvas of the Pentecost (F. da Castello, 1589), a plaque remembering the chapel of the Madonna della Pietà (16) and a canvas (17) by the Maestro D. Costa (1828) portraying St Dominic. There is another chapel (18) with a canvas portraying the Madonna della Quercia and saints (attributed to Paolino da Pistoia of the XVI century and one from the school of S. del Piombo (XVI c.) of the Baptism of Jesus Christ. In this chapel (19) there is a small Antiquarium of the ex voto (19) containing tablets painted between the XV and the XVIII c. with scenes of the miracles of the Madonna della Quercia. The museum is situated in a room which was known in ancient times as Women’s Cloister and was opened in 1978. Here we can see vestments, vases, goblets, pyxes, silver ex-voto and bronze statues. Two frescoes on canvas hang on the walls with the one portraying the Madonna with Child attributed to Carolino da Viterbo (XV c.). On the altar at the end of the nave (20) we can see an Adoration by F. da Castello (1598). Back to the main nave, the Decollation of the Baptist, on the contra-façade next to the left-hand inner door, is by P. Vanni (1878). On each side of the main entrance there are two canvases by the Viterbian school of the XVII-XVIII c. portraying Our Lady of Sorrows the Madonna del Carmine. All of the central part of the contra-façade (21) is taken up by the large fresco by A. Pucciatti (1636) showing The miracle of the Priest from Canepina . The two stoups for the holy water next to the entrances are by Camillo da Carrara (1555). The panels of the Via Crucis are by the artist A. Turchetti (1965).
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