The Third Miracle of Lanciano
Lanciano is definitely a town of miracles! After visiting the Church of Saint Francis with the Eucharistic Miracle and the Cathedral, which houses the miraculously found image of the Madonna del Ponte my friends (Nora, John and Ami) and I went in search of the third miracle of Lanciano. I mean the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which is a genuine architectural masterpiece.
The road to the church though very easy and straight on a map, in reality appeared to be quite a twisty one. From broad and straight avenues fanned numerous short and narrow lanes. By the way we discovered a rather curious feature of the Lanciano toponymy. When we asked an elderly Signora how to get to Santa Maria Maggiore Church, she said: Go straight on, then turn to Vicoto. We examined the map, but did not find it. She was so kind, as to take us to the nearest corner and show the way. When we came up to the indicated lane, and read its name «Vico Otto» (the Eighth Lane), we understood the meaning of this mysterious “Vicoto”. Later on we met a dozen of such “numbered” lanes.
When we finally reached the church it was closed. Of course, we were very much disappointed, but frankly speaking we were ready to such an outcome, because in Italy churches are usually closed during the “siesta”. Still, we hoped to find it open because I used to meet some happy exceptions. But not that time. I consoled myself that there was a good reason to visit this beautiful city once again.
We slowly walked around the church. Its outward appearance produces an extraordinary impression. First of all I have not ever seen a church with two splendid portals on the same facade and, above all, with two lovely rosette-windows. Exceptionally rich decor of the main portal is so skillfully balanced that does not seem over-exuberant. I wanted to photograph again and again every architectural detail and each sculptural decoration.
In the splendid arched frame of the portal’s lunette a sculptural group of crucified Christ and kneeling figures of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist looked surprisingly ascetic.
I always fall in love with Gothic rosettes and Renaissance arched windows. I especially like double and triple arched windows, which in Italy are called bifora or trifora (depending on the number of openings). On both sides of the main portal there are graceful biforas. And over the lateral portal there is a lovely ensemble consisting of a rosette and two arched windows. Their decor repeats delicately the ornament of the rosette. I use the word “delicately” because the windows are decorated with only one detail of ornament, which is different for each window.
The construction of the church in the Romanesque style began in 1180 on the site of an ancient temple which was dedicated to the pagan god Apollo. Initially, the main facade had a small porch, which looked on the Garibaldi Street. Simultaneously, there was built the four-level bell tower with graceful Romanesque triforas. As the result of major restructuring undertaken in 1227, the church acquired a burgundy-Cistercian architectural shape, which is very seldom met in Abruzzo. A portico with a large lancet arch was built above the entrance.
In 1317, in accordance with the design of the architect Francesco Petrini there was created a grand gallery, overlooking the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. The date of creation of the portal and Petrini’s signature are still visible in the lunette. As a result, the main entrance has been moved to the opposite side of the church.
When creating the portal Petrini artfully used the space between the Romanesque buttresses. Columns and arches of the lancet portal are exclusively richly decorated with various motifs. The upper lunette is decorated with a sculpture of lamb as a symbol of sacrifice. The rosette-window, a symbol of Paradise, is beautifully decorated with floral garlands concluded with fantastic beasts.
Today the church of Santa Maria Maggiore has been almost returned to its original burgundy-Cistercian architectural appearance. In the chancel of the church there is kept a large silver cross, made in the late Gothic style by famous Abruzzian goldsmith Nicola da Guardiagrele and a semicircular triptych by Gerolamo Galizzi da Santacroce.
I found a site (http://www.ipcdegiorgio.it) which gives a very interesting description of the architectural style of the Santa Maria Maggiore church. Here is the summary:
To the Roman period belong the conch, the crypt and the arcature, crowning the main and right aisles. From the Romanesque period are left the former entrance with the portico with pointed arches and two small side chapels, which were added in 1227. The Romanesque-Lombard bell tower was completed in 1331 in the Gothic style.
The most significant changes relate to the Gothic period, when there were created cross-spans and cruciform pilasters, which assume the weight of the vaults. When a new facade was made in the XIV century, the large square chancel has been turned into a lobby, and the main altar was moved to the opposite side.
The large rosette-window in the background and the door behind the main altar refer to the later period of construction. In XIV century the church underwent a new restructuring after which the space and structure of the church were significantly changed. The building was extended to the right of the big portal and there was built a simple ogival portal with biforas, symmetrically arranged on both sides. The large rosette-window with floral motifs, located above the portal, refer to the transition period from Gothic to Renaissance.