An odd relief sculpture in a church dedicated to death, the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio. I wonder if this church was so dedicated not only so as not to diminish the prominence of its nearby neighbor, the Duomo, but also because of the adversity the town has faced over the centuries, where death is never very far away. The relief still shows visible signs of earthquake damage. I thought this was very profound and poignant when I came across it, somewhat by accident.
Located in the heart of the historic center of L'Aquila, the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio was built in 1713. Until the early eighteenth century it was actually located in another building situated along the current Roio, near the cathedral of St. Maximus. The earthquake of 1703 damaged the structure sufficiently that the association at least was moved to a temporary wooden church in the Piazza Duomo on the site of the current church. Two years later, the land was purchased with the intent of creating a larger, more permanent structure. Reportedly the expenditures of the brotherhood became more lavish due to increases in revenue. The measure was opposed some, however, as it was felt that its presence could diminish the prominence of the other cathedral in the square. The dispute was settled in 1713 when the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars finally granted consent to the building, for the specific purpose of celebrating masses for the repose of the dead so that it would not detract from the cathedral, hence the odd iconography found both inside and outside. Many masons and carpenters reportedly provided free work on the church. The laying of the foundation stone occurred on October 10, 1713 but all the decoration inside was not finally completed until 1775. It was designed by Roman architect Carlo Buratti, a pupil of Carlo Fontana.
The structure consists of a rectangular hall featuring a barrel vault flanked by two side chapels on either side. The two marble altars, which were originally commissioned in 1679 were not installed for another twenty years when they were transferred from the ruined church on the Via Roio. The fašade is divided into five areas featuring a double order of Corinthian columns, and the portal is embellished by a pediment and an allegorical image of death, featuring a skeleton and a plaque bearing the inscription: "Iuvetur mortuus non lacrymis, sed precibus, supplicationibus et elemosynis. -S. Chrys." The church was further embellished in the nineteenth century. It was heavily damaged during the earthquake in 2009, and has only recently been reopened. Its dome completely collapsed (of which there is actually video) and it has yet to be completely restored. Many cracks and visible damage can still be found both inside and outside.
The town of L'Aquila, or The Eagle, located about 60 miles or 100 kilometers northeast of Rome, is a city and comune in central Italy. It is the capital of the Abruzzo Region and the Province of L'Aquila, with a population of about 68,000. It is situated in a wide valley of the Aterno river at an altitude of about 2,200 feet, surrounded by the stunning Apennine mountain range within sight of the Gran Sasso d'Italia, located just northeast of the town. It consists of a series of narrow streets, most of which feature Baroque and even Renaissance buildings and churches. It is also home to the University of L'Aquila, a theater, a symphony orchestra, an arts academy and a film institute.
Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II was largely responsible for its construction, as he consolidated 99 existing villages (celebrated by the famous "Fountain of the 99 Spouts") as a check on the power of the papacy. Construction continued under his son Conrad IV of Germany until 1254, and it was largely destroyed by his brother Manfred in 1259, to be rebuilt by Charles I of Anjou; the walls were completed in 1316. The town's name has also changed over the centuries as well: it was known as Aquila degli Abruzzi in 1861 and L'Aquila in 1939. The town became fantastically wealthy due to sheep farming, playing a vital role in the wool trade, and a number of privileges protecting this vital industry. Many wealthy Tuscan merchants purchased properties here, and in 1355 trade builds w government; the city became so important that the king granted the city its own mint in 1344.
The town has experienced many challenges over the years, however, some seemingly insurmountable, yet it has survived. It was struck by plague epidemics, including the Black Death of 1348 and another outbreak in 1363, and numerous earthquakes, including a devastating one in 2009 which killed 307 people and rendered much of the historic center of the town uninhabitable. Earlier (known) quakes included a December, 1315 event which damaged the San Francesco Church; another in 1349, which killed about 800 people; then more to follow, in 1452, 1461, 1501, 1645, 1703 (a major event which killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed almost all the churches and even the Rocca Calascio, the then-highest fortress in Europe) and again in 1706. Perhaps the worst in its recorded history occurred on July 31, 1786 when more than 6,000 were killed. Earthquakes continue into modern times, with a 5.0 occurring in 1958, and the most recent, a 6.3 in April, 2009, which measured 6.3. The latest event rendered 65,000 people homeless, many of whom still have not been able to return to their homes as restoration efforts have been very slow, hampered by widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds. Reconstruction efforts have always been undertaken, however, and they continue currently (and probably will for years), albeit slowly and somewhat painfully.
Major cultural points of interest include several important churches, including the church of St. Bernardino of Siena (1472), Santa Maria di Collemaggio (1270-1280), which contains the mausoleum of Pope Celestine V (1517), the 13th-century Cathedral of San Massimo (Duomo), reconstructed after a 1703 earthquake and heavily damaged again in the most recent one, the Fontana Luminosa, a sculpture of two water-bearers, built in the 1930s, and many museums, film festivals and other events have occurred here. Many feature films have been shot in the area, known the world over for its astounding natural beauty.