Façade by Cola dell'Amatrice, a town north of L'Aquila
August 5, 1843. We devoted the morning to visiting churches, etc.: but of the buildings of Aquila I shall say little; partly, because to describe them would require the pen of an architect, and because many of the principal edifices are already known to the public by the Hon. K. Craven's Tour.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
The finest church in all its parts is that of S. Bernardino of Sienna, which, nevertheless, is not honoured with the title of cathedral: the front, which was executed by Cola dell'Amatrice, an eminent architect and painter, and a native of this province, presents a somewhat heterogeneous union of the Gothic with the Roman style, prevailing at the beginning of the sixteenth century, but blended with sufficient ingenuity and taste to produce a pleasing and even imposing effect.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
Niccola, commonly called by everyone Maestro Cola dalla Matrice executed many works in Calabria, at Ascoli, and at Norcia, which are very well known, and which gained for him the name of a rare master - the best, indeed, that there had ever been in these parts. And since he also gave his attention to architecture, all the buildings that were erected in his day at Ascoli and throughout all that province had him as architect. Cola, without caring to see Rome or to change his country, remained always at Ascoli, living happily for some time with his wife, a woman of good and honourable family, and endowed with extraordinary nobility of spirit.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
Façade: "Serliana", a typical Renaissance window
From Rieti Bernardine reached the little town of Cittaducale on the frontier of the kingdom of Naples, where he was received with similar marks of veneration, and where, despite his weakness, he acceded to a request to preach in the market-place. (..) The sermon of Cittaducale had sapped Bernardine's remaining strength. That same evening the dysentery redoubled, and was attended by fever and faintness. However, the next day he continued his journey notwithstanding, until he reached the market town of Antrodoco. (..) Bernardine had been obliged to halt at the village of San Silvestro, seven miles from Aquila, where he passed a restless night. The next day he was too feeble to move, so that his companions persuaded him to be carried; thus, "sad and groaning," says the old chronicle, he was borne as far as Aquila. This was on the Sunday before Ascension Day. Thus, in a dying state, did Bernardine reach the kingdom of Naples, whither his zeal had impelled him. (..)
No sooner had the saint arrived than the magistrates sent the ablest doctors of the town to his aid, and rich and poor alike anxiously awaited the news. But remedies were powerless over a frame which, according to a contemporary, "was melting like wax near a fire," and on the Wednesday the invalid asked for the last Sacraments. Shortly after, feeling that his hour had come, being unable to speak, he signified, by gesture, to the brethren that he wished to be laid on the floor of his cell. Thus with arms crossed and eyes raised to heaven, with a countenance as joyous, says his biographer, as though he had just gained a victory over the enemy, and like to one smiling, he rendered up his soul to God. His death occurred on 20 May, 1444, on the eve of the Ascension, at Vesper time. (..) No sooner was the news of his death noised abroad than the people flocked in crowds to the convent, forcing the doors in order to venerate the saint's remains. Bernardine's companions wished to remove the body to Capriola (a convent in Siena), and had already begun the necessary preparations. But the town of Aquila refused to part with the precious relic, and at once took measures to secure it.
Paul Thureau-Dangin - Saint Bernardine of Siena - 1906
In the 1450 Jubilee Year the Franciscan preacher was canonized. In Rome he was portrayed in works of art, e.g. at S. Maria in Aracoeli, and later on at S. Maria della Pace and in a church dedicated to him.
Main portal: Girolamo da Norcia is introduced to the Virgin Mary between St. Francis (left) and St. Bernardine (right)
The principal church is that of St Bernardino da Siena: the facade was begun in 1523 and completed in 1548 from the designs of the celebrated painter and sculptor, Cola dell'Amatrice. It is the richest façade in the town, although extremely heavy in its details. It is composed of three orders, one over tbe other; the lower being Doric. The workmanship is unusually elaborate, and, in spite of the heaviness alluded to, it is imposing in its general effect. Over the principal door, which is Corinthian, are bas reliefs of the Madonna and some kneeling saints, one of which is the portrait of Girolamo da Norcia, the architect of the two lateral doors.
John Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy - 1853
Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine devised a symbol - IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek - in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. This was to displace the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of factions: for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines. The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Bernardine's holiness, orthodoxy, and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness.
Franciscanmedia - short biography of the saint
In 1541 the symbol (without the blazing sun) was adopted by St. Ignatius of Loyola and it can be seen in many churches of the Jesuit order.
The interior presents architectural details of a more modern and less eccentric taste; and it is, moreover, enriched by a variety of fine marbles, the production of the neighbouring mountains, whose tints and polish emulate the finest specimens of verd and giallo antico. Craven
In the interior the roof and its compartments are handsome; the marbles o£ the floor and walls are from the mountains in the neighbourhood. Murray
Organ by Ferdinando Mosca da Pescocostanzo
The interior was redesigned and greatly embellished during its restoration after the major earthquake which struck L'Aquila in 1703. You may wish to see some XVIIIth century organs in Roman churches.
The church retains a chapel which was decorated in 1511, prior to the XVIIIth century redesign of the building. Its frescoes depicted scenes from the life of St. Francis and are attributed to Francesco di Paolo da Montereale, a small town north of L'Aquila. Some of his works in other churches are now on display at Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo (MUNDA).
(left) Monument to St. Bernardine; the blazing sun in its lower part is shown in the image used as background for this page; (right) inscription stating that a decree issued by Pope Gregory XIII in 1577 granted special indulgences to the priests who celebrated Mass in this chapel
The most remarkable object is the sepulchral monument erected to the patron saint, a structure which, from its magnitude, the character of its execution, and its excellent state of preservation, may vie with any work of the kind which Italy has; it was executed at the end of the fifteenth century at the expense of a private citizen of Aquila. (..) The stone of which it is composed is nearly equal to marble, and is susceptible of receiving the most minute and delicate tracery, which is lavished upon it in the style denominated arabesque, the details of which are evidently suggested by the most classical models; though its form, that of a large casket with a vaulted top, is somewhat clumsy: in the various panels are several statues in alto relievo, of most exquisite design and sculpture, and the whole does great credit to the taste and powers of the sculptor. Craven
Monument to St. Bernardine: front side with a relief similar to that in the main portal
This valuable specimen of art was broke open during the first invasion of the French, in 1799 who, having met with some resistance in the town, wreaked their vengeance on the sacred edifices, and carried off from the interior of the shrine the massive diver chest containing the bones of the saint. This costly vessel had been purposely manufactured with exquisite skill and labour by the order of Louis XI. of France, whose wellknown devotion towards saints and their relics outstepped the ordinary limits of his economy on this occasion: it had, moreover, been submitted to the inspection and approbation of Sixtus IV. who filled the papal chair at this period (1481); whose admiration of it was so powerful, that he published a bull excommunicating any future violator of so precious an article, which did not prevent the soldiers of three centuries later from profaning it, and casting the holy bones into the street. These were, however, preserved from dispersion, and have since been restored to their original resting-place in a receptacle of less costly materials. Craven
Monument to St. Bernardine: details of the rear side: (left) St. Francis and an inscription praising the statues of the monument; (centre) St. Anthony; (right) decorative motif based on a frieze behind the Pantheon
The monument calls to mind the marble casing of the Holy House at Loreto which was designed by Donato Bramante and Jacopo Sansovino a few years later. It is considered the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture in Abruzzo.
Silvestro dell'Aquila, its architect and main sculptor is thought to have worked with Andrea Bregno in Rome. The latter designed very novel types of funerary monuments e.g. at S. Maria di Aracoeli, SS. Apostoli and S. Maria del Popolo.
Another sepulchre in the same church is worthy of notice; tradition ascribes it to the same author, but the style bears an earlier character. It is erected to the memory of an infant of the house of Camponesco, a family celebrated in the annals of this city, by its mother, a lady of Spanish origin.
The effigies of both are represented in recumbent postures, in two separate divisions one above the other; and they both are admirable for the beauty and delicacy of the faces, and the elegant simplicity of the figures.
A general of that race, by name Lello Camponesco, rendered himself illustrious under the reigns of Ladislas, and his sister the second Joan, for his valorous conduct, and in particular for his successful defence of Aquila against the attacks of the well-known Braccio di Montone, surnamed Fortebraccio, who was killed in its vicinity. Craven
See a St. Sebastian by Silvestro dell'Aquila at Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo (MUNDA).
(left) Cappella di S. Giovanni Battista; (right) XVIIIth century altar with a painting portraying San Giovanni da Capestrano, a friend of St. Bernardine
The altar of the chapel of St. John Baptist is the only one which retains its XVIth century design (the XVIIth century painted wooden statue was placed there at a later time). After the 1703 earthquake the other chapels were redesigned in the fashion of the time.
MUNDA: Mannerist (late XVIth century) paintings from S. Bernardino: (left) Annunciation by a local painter; (right) Tobias and the Angel by Giovan Paolo Donati; the portrayal of elongated figures, especially of angels, in a dynamic pose is typical of Mannerism
Introductory page to this section
Atri - the Town
Atri - the Cathedral
Borgocollefegato and the Cicolano
Chieti - Roman memories
Leonessa - The Town
Leonessa - The Churches
Luco and Trasacco
S. Benedetto dei Marsi and Pescina
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)
Appendix - Other excerpts and illustrations from Lear's book covering minor towns and sites