View of the walls of Tuscania (left) and of S. Pietro (right at the top of the hill) and S. Maria Maggiore
(right at the foot of the hill)
The Etruscan town of Tuscania was founded on an isolated hill and later on it expanded northwards to include other hills.
In the Middle Ages the initial settlement was called
Civita (city) to point out that it was the centre of the town where the cathedral church was located (initially S. Maria Maggiore and then S. Pietro).
In the late XIVth century the inhabitants, greatly reduced by the Black Death, a bubonic plague which spread through Europe in 1348-49, decided that the wall enclosure was too large to be effectively defended. Civita which was separated by the rest of the town by a ravine was excluded by the redesigned walls. What occurred to Civita di Tuscania is similar to what occurred to Civita di Bagnoregio.
S. Maria Maggiore: (left) view from S. Pietro; (right) fašade
The two medieval churches of Civita ended up
by being surrounded by grazing land for sheep; they were founded in the VIIIth century, but were largely renovated in the early XIIIth century;
they have Romanesque and Gothic elements and they depart from the structure of the early churches
based on the design of the ancient Roman basilicas.
An imposing bell tower, which most likely was built for a defensive purpose, hides the view of S. Maria Maggiore which can best be seen in its entirety from S. Pietro.
S. Maria Maggiore: the rose window and a detail showing a winged lion, the symbol of St. Marc
S. Maria Maggiore: the gallery
The use of marble and of stones of different colours in the rose window and in a small gallery lightens the design of the fašade which was completed in 1206.
S. Maria Maggiore: (left/centre) details of the main portal with statues of St. Paul and St. Peter; (right) right portal
The portals of S. Maria Maggiore have a very elaborate decoration; it is likely that the marble employed in the main portal came from ancient Roman buildings, probably a temple upon which the church was built.
S. Maria Maggiore: main portal: relief showing the Sacrifice of Isaac
The side portals are decorated with symbolic reliefs while the main one shows a sort of modern strip: two scenes portray the Sacrifice of Isaac; a capital in the same portal shows the Flight to Egypt (it opens in another window).
S. Maria Maggiore: (left) interior; (right) a medieval capital portraying a beast with a double body eating a boy
S. Maria Maggiore and S. Pietro were not deconsecrated and abandoned and their interior continued to be decorated, but overall they retained their medieval character. S. Pietro remained the cathedral of Tuscania until 1572.
S. Pietro during a visit by bicycle tourists
S. Pietro was built on the acropolis of the ancient town, in a more favourable location than S. Maria Maggiore; the fact of being surrounded by grass gives to the church a somewhat English character.
S. Pietro: rose window with the symbols of the Evangelists
While the rose window of S. Maria Maggiore conveys the impression of a wheel, that of S. Pietro seems a lacework. It is similar, but more elaborate than the rose windows of S. Giovanni degli Zoccoli in Viterbo and of the Cathedral of Spoleto, which also show the symbols of the Evangelists at the four corners of a square frame.
S. Pietro: (left) relief showing the Church; (centre) relief showing Evil; (right) main portal
The decoration of the fašade includes also a representation of the Church: the medieval artist made use of an ancient relief which he thought
represented Atlas and he positioned it below the symbols of the Church (two angels, the Lamb of God, four saints) as if Atlas was supporting the Church, rather than Earth; as a matter
of fact the ancient relief portrayed a dancing satyr. The representation of Evil has a similar structure; the figure below the window is perhaps King Minos, who in the Middle Ages was regarded as the judge of the underworld and had a snake like tail (see Michelangelo's Minos - external link).
These reliefs are similar to those which decorated S. Maria Impensole in Narni.
While the reliefs are typically medieval, the portal, unlike that of S. Maria Maggiore, has an almost classic design and decoration.
S. Pietro: Cosmati pavement
The pavement of the interior, the main portal and the rose window are all Cosmati works, although it has not been ascertained who exactly did them; at the time S. Pietro was being completed Jacopo di Lorenzo and his son Cosma were working at the Cathedral of Civita Castellana, which is not very far from Tuscania; maybe one of their assistants was commissioned the decoration of S. Pietro.
S. Pietro: interior
Ancient columns and capitals were utilized for the construction of S. Pietro, but also capitals with a very new design were employed; the height of the columns is unusually low when compared to that of the building; another peculiar aspect is given by the stone benches between the columns.
Towers near S. Pietro
Over the centuries most of the buildings which surrounded S. Pietro have disappeared, but not the tall towers which protected Civita this section of the medieval. The bishops of Tuscania lived in a palace on the right side of the church.
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