THE CHURCH OF THE TRINITÀ (Holy Trinity)
The church is known by the people of Viterbo as the Sanctuary of the Madonna Liberatrice because it is linked to the veneration of the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary which is attributed to Gregorio and Donato d’Arezzo. This miraculous event came about on the 28th May, 1320. As told by numerous local chroniclers, the sky above the city became so dark as to terrorize the people. Crowds of demons with crow-like bodies, noctules and eagles moved about in the darkness threatening the people with the menace of the hell. At the height of the fear the figure of the venerated Madonna appeared in the Saint Anna chapel of the church of the Trinità, inviting the people of Viterbo to come and pray in front of her image. The entire city gathered at the feet of the Virgin, pleading for protection and their prayers were immediately answered. The name of the Liberator of the Viterbians was adopted from the moment of the Virgin’s appearance and the citizens turned to her in moments of difficulty. The interest of the Town Council in its Liberator is reported in the ancient statutes. In particular in the statute of 1344, it was decided that there would be a procession on every Pentecost Monday. This tradition is still alive today and is held on the last Sunday of the month. The church and the convent were built by the Augustinian Hermit Fathers of the Monterazzano Hermitage around 1256 and the complex was consecrated by the Cardinals of Alessandro IV’s retinue. Alessandro IV himself consecrated the high altar in 1258, as commemorated by the plaque in Gothic letters which hangs in the cloister. With the passing of time the temple proved to be inadequate for the devotion of the people of Viterbo and in 1727 it was decided that another larger one had to be built. The new building was designed by the Roman architect Battista Gazzale and was completed in 1745. The fresco of the Madonna Liberatrice was solemnly put in place in October 1748, before the consecration of the new sanctuary which took place on 20th July, 1750, and it can still be seen there today. The design of the church was by the architect Giovan Battista Gazzale of Rome and was carried out by the Maestros Giuseppe Prada and Giuseppe Spinedi.
The façade mixes linearities which are Baroque in style with characteristics which are already neo-classic. It has two floors with three portals in the lower one. Next to these there are two niches where we can see the statue of Saint Augustine on the right and of Saint Thomas of Villanova on the left, created by the sculptors Camillo and Vincenzo Pacetti. They are framed by pairs of columns with Tuscan capitals. The portals are surmounted by tympanums. The central tympanum has a cusp with a lion’s head at the top while the other two are rounded. There is a large window in the upper level which is protected by a balustrade in peperino stone. A rounded arch is held up by two columns framing a travertine glory tending to Baroque with the symbol of the Trinity in its centre. To the sides, between four protruding pilasters, there are two niches in line with the bottom ones housing the peperino stone statues of Saint Monica,(on the left) and Saint Rita of Cascia (on the right) which are also by the Pacetti brothers. A peperino stone tympanum decorated with torch-bearers completes the façade. On the left-hand side next to the end wall stands the square bell-tower covered by a square dome.
This is a Latin-cross shaped church with a main nave and two side aisles divided by three tall rounded arches resting on large pillars with a large console above which there are three large windows on each side. The magnificently designed dome rises from the centre of the cross-shaped interior, opened up by eight round holes and culminating in a cupola with vertical windows. Some frescoes by Giuseppe Toeschi (XIX century) depicting The Saints Augustine, Ambrose, Girolamo and Gregory can be seen on the support pendentives (1). There are two eighteenth-century wooden chancels above the presbytery. Arched cross-beams subdivide the aisles with three chapels on each side. There are two chapels on either side of the transept and another two in the side apses. A late 18th century altar-piece portraying St John of Shagun saving a child who has fallen in a well, can be seen in the first chapel on the right (2). This painting is attributed to the Polish artist Taddheus Kuntz. Recently Claudio Strinati attributed this work of art to Marcello Leopardi. The second chapel is separated from the nave by a marble balustrade, and has a marble altar (3), dedicated to Saint Rita of Cascia. Further down (4) the canvas (1795) by Domenico Corvi depicting St Thomas of Villanova giving alms to the poor can be seen in the large chapel. In the right hand transept we can see the chapel-sanctuary of the Madonna Liberatrice where a large marble altar is placed. The work of art (5) by Gregorio and Donato, two itinerant artists from Arezzo who adopted the style of Giotto, was taken off from the fragment of wall on which it had been painted and restored, thus eliminating previous adaptations that had been carried out on it and which had substantially modified it. The painting was then put in a recess in the wall and was given a frame decorated in silver and protected by two doors covered in engraved silver-plate. The painting portrays the Virgin with Child on her lap holding a small bird with the Virgin holding a rose in her right hand and seated on a throne. Alabaster mirrors and gilded shells can be found around this sacred image and along the side walls, as well as numerous ex votos in silver among which (on the right) the modern reproduction of the city by Massino Lanzi is particularly noteworthy, donated by the Town Council in 1980. On the opposite wall there is another older reproduction dating back to the beginning of the XIX century. The central window is closed off by a glass panel painted by Federico Ludovisi (1981). In the right-hand apse hangs a wooden Crucifix dated to the end of the sixteenth century which was restored in the1980s. The sacristy rooms lead off from this point (6). The beautiful funereal monument with the reclining figure of Cardinal Raimondo Perault (1505) can be seen in the corridor (7) along with various marble plaques including the one commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit to the sanctuary (27th May, 1984). A cast-iron gate ( XV century), leads to the enormous sacristy. A group of life-sized sculptures of the Guardian Angel (XVIII century) in varnished and gilded wood stands in a recess along the end wall (8). The large eighteenth-century altar of precious marble can be see in the central apse (9) making a kind of screen which closes off the semi-circular choir, surrounded by wooded stalls created in the middle of the XVIII century by Viterbian carpenters. A large altar-piece (10) painted in 1651 by Fabrizio Chiari of Rome depicting Saint Augustine, Saint Monica and the Holy Trinity can be found on the altar. The presbytery is closed off by an elegant balustrade and houses the altar presently being used in accordance with the provisions of the II Vatican Council (11). It has a large Corinthian capital of the 1300s, the ambo (12) is a tympanum made of Carrara marble with the Benedictory Christ (middle of the XV century). In the apse on the left (13) we find the chapel dedicated to the Mother of Consolation. In the chapel in the left-hand transept (14) hangs the canvas depicting Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and the purgative souls by Francesco Maria Bonifazi of Viterbo (middle of the XVII century). Further along (15) we find the Chigi chapel where the members of the Chigi family are buried. It has a huge, complex marble altar with columns, capitals and decorative stuccos. Its altar piece is by the Viterbian artist Vincenzo Strigelli and portrays the Martyrdom of Saint Agatha (1740). The vault is divided by panels with stuccos representing floral designs. The Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Justice, Strength and Temperance are represented on the sides (second half of the XVII century).The altar-piece (16) by Ippolito Romano (1537) can be seen on the next altar down, portraying Jesus giving the keys to Saint Peter and Saint Paul with a background in gold. In the lower part we can see the portraits of cardinal Egidio da Viterbo with his sister Pacifica Antonini who had commissioned the work. On the last altar (17) there is an altar piece depicting the Deposition of Christ (1582) attributed to Arrigo di Malines, also known as the Flamingo (this piece has also had a change of attribution by Strinati who believed it to be the work of Cesare Nebbia of Orvieto.) At the end of the nave stands (18) the ‘Macchina’ (end of the 1600s) in gilded wood which is used in the Madonna Liberatrice procession. On the main inner door we can see the eighteenth-century wooded crest of the Augustinian Order with festoons between two torch holders which are also in wood.
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