THE RUPESTRIAN CHURCHES OF MATERA

THE RUPESTRIAN CHURCHES

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The Rupestrian Churches

There are many churches in the various streets. Inside the Rioni Sassi, in addition, there are up to 166 churches called rupestri because carved into the rock. Below we mention only some of the churches in the city. The use of caves as a dwelling originated, according to archaeological investigations, at the dawn of human civilization.

Subsequently, man has learned not only to exploit these caves according to his own needs but also to shape the spaces in his own image and likeness and even to build places that facilitate the life itself. Over the centuries, the city has flowed with Byzantine, Longobard, imperial and Saracen armies, which, although warlike, inculcate to the local people their culture and their faith.

The course of history has redesigned, therefore, a new cultural and social identity formed by the amalgamation of different civilizations then merged into a single system of life and expression that the various governments alternated could not disperse. Thus the need arose for man to gather in urban civilizations and to create places where he could gather to venerate his saints. They begin to outline in the caves frescoes depicting Angels and Saints until the construction of real churches. 

Like a growing number of houses, collected in "Vicinati", the churches developed defined to the rupestrian days because they were built, like the houses, in real caves also remodelled according to religious and housing needs. Scattered throughout the city and in the Rioni Sassithere are various churches. Among churches and crypts carved into the rock there are more than 115 specimens in the stones, many of which still to be recovered. Below we will describe some of the rock churches on the territory materano which are open to the public and it is therefore possible to visit.

the cathedral

It is one of the most important sacred monuments of the city started in the early 1200’s. The church is entirely built in tuff obtained from the quarry of Vaglia. It overlooks the whole city and its main facade has an imposing door that gives access to the central nave. Inside the Cathedral are kept statues including that of the Madonna della Bruna patron saint of the city.

Its architecture is a Latin cross and its interior is divided into three naves (the central one is the highest) through ten figurative medieval capitals. Among the various frescoes there is "The Last Judgment" dating back to the Middle Ages. There is also a permanent crib made in the first decades of 1500.

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The San Domenico Church

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From the outside there is a Romanesque facade in which there is an elegant rose window called "wheel of fortune". Inside the wheel is represented a dog with a torch in the mouth symbol of the Dominicans and around it there are four sculptures depicting a Lamone in the lower part two deacons on the sides and San Michele Arcangelo on the sides.

Its interior consists of three naves and over the years has undergone various changes such as the stucco decorations of the walls and the construction of the chapel of the Rosary with the dome. Inside there are important works such as the high altar with a papier-mâché complex of the Madonna del Rosario, various paintings and also a seventeenth-century organ.

The Chiesa del Purgatorio

It is one of the most beautiful churches built in late Baroque style towards the end of the first half of 1700. Its characteristic convex facade deals with the theme of death, the fugacity of earthly life and the redemption of souls. In the highest part there is the statue of the Madonna and Child.

The wooden door is divided into 36 panels depicting skulls of rulers or deceased prelates of Italian municipalities. On both sides of the entrance there are statues of St. Michael the Archangel and the Guardian Angel. Of great value is the octagonal dome decorated with the images of the four evangelists and the four doctors of the Church.

On the high altar is depicted on a canvas San Gaetano who intercedes with the Madonna for the souls of Purgatory. Inside there is also a seventeenth-century organ and eight paintings dating back to the eighteenth century.

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Saint Giovanni Battista

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It is certainly to be considered one of the most beautiful churches of Matera. Built from 1230, and finished in 1233, but several times renovated and modified over the years, is the first sacred church built outside the walls of the city of Matera (the current Sassi).

It was abandoned during the War of Otranto (1480) and reopened to worship only in 1695 and with the name of Saint John the Baptist. The main portal, finely decorated, is also decorated with hanging columns and sculptures of animals.

The statue of Saint John the Baptist, to which the Church is dedicated, is present in the niche under the rose window of the great tympanum and inside on the fountain still used for baptisms. The interior consists of three naves identified by eight pillars that support capitals decorated with floral motifs and animals.

The central nave has an imposing star vault, while on the side aisles, instead are characterized large transverse arches form cross vaults. The medieval chapels contain a 16th-century fresco of the Madonna della Nova and two wooden statues representing the Medici saints Cosmas and Damian, other protectors of the city. In the chapel on the altar there is a canvas of the mid-eighteenth century by Vito Antonio Conversi.

The Santa Maria della Palomba Church

This church can be reached along the Appia road just outside Matera. It was built in the 16th century on a cliff overlooking the Gravina. Its main facade is divided into two orders and marked by high pilasters that form three blind arches.

The stone portal with a low arch is dominated by a high relief in tuff depicting the Holy Family. Higher up, there is an elegant stone rose window surmounted by a niche that houses a statue of San Michele. on the right stands a bell tower. The interior side walls are entirely frescoed characterized by a series of niches with states of saints and round with portraits.

In the sculpted altarpiece there are two niches with statues and a fresco of the Virgin and Child. In addition to the sixteenth-century masonry structure, the church has a part entirely excavated in the tuff that dates back to the year 1000 and exhibits ancient frescoes well preserved.

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Thei San Pietro Caveoso Church

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Located inside the Sassi rises in the homonymous square. It was built in the seventeenth century on a pre-existing place of worship, and then rebuilt in the eighteenth century. In the facade there are three rectangular portals surmounted by three stone statues.

On the left there is a majestic square bell tower. The interior has three naves, with small side chapels on the left. The flat ceiling of the nave is painted wood. On the high altar stands the wooden politician depicting the Madonna and Child and SS. Peter and Paul. Inside there are also sculptures of the Madonna and Child and fifteenth-century frescoes narrating episodes of the life of the saints.

The San Pietro Barisano Church

Among the rock churches present in the Rioni Sassi, the one that most presents the union between the church carved into the rock and the subsequent building is the parish church of San Pietro Barisano. The church takes its name from its location in the area of Sassi called Barisano which is also the most recent neighborhood of Sassi.

From the outside you can see a bell tower located on the left side of the church which is placed on a rocky shelf with an upper level. Unlike the basic plan of the church is quadrangular with several shelves and ends in the form of cupiste. Following the dangerousness of the bell tower to the houses below was built a reinforcement that then made the current appearance of the church itself.

The facade of the church, built with tufa ashlars, has a very simple architectural style that makes it a particular elegance. Inside the church is divided into three naves of which the most important is undoubtedly the central one. Each nave has a very simple architecture from an artistic point of view and is separated from the others by quadrangular pillars and connected with full-sixth arches. 

Each nave has an altar and bookcases but the high altar is placed in the central nave. Inside the church there are works and frescoes of considerable importance such as the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin with the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Christ in the Tomb and the altar of the Annunciation.

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The Cript of the Original Sign

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On Via Appia towards Miglionico at Km 567, after crossing the bridge over the Gravina torrent, take the first tract on the right and follow it in full. A narrow and uneven staircase leads to the rooms below where the rock church "of Original Sin" more known as "the Cave of the Hundred Saints".

The interior of the crypt, vaguely rectangular, has only the left wall moved by three large unequal niches. This cave, poor in architectural elements, is characterized by a remarkable pictorial cycle that illuminates the interior walls of the left and bottom. 

The back wall is divided by the erect figure of Christ the Redeemer who wrote the letters in the three sectors of the nimbus cross : P A X. To his left develops the biblical episode of "Original Sin". The scenes that develop on the other half of the wall recall the advent of Darkness (evil) and Light (good).

Below is the liturgical purification of a bishop. On the left wall the three apse niches contain as many triarchies. The first presents S. Peter flanked by S. Andrea and S. Giovanni. The second Triarchy shows the Madonna and Child adored by two Muliebri figures. The third composition represents the Triarchy of the Archangels.

The flat wall above the three apses was also once decorated with wall paintings, now reduced to small illegible fragments. In the innermost area, very ruined, appears the Christ with the nimbus of the cross holding in the left a black globe. On the side, kneeling, is the Archangel Gabriel in the act of worship.

La Madonna dell'Idris

Descending into the heart of the Sassi and looking at the new city with the Gravina behind, stands imposing a huge boulder with at its peak a cross. Walking along a steep road between the houses, up to the slopes of the boulder you reach the entrance of the Madonna dell'Idris.

The church, composed of an irregular nave, is among the most evocative of the old city. It is a small church partly built in masonry and partly excavated on top of the Monterone, the picturesque limestone boulder that stands in the middle of Sasso Caveoso.

The masonry part, where there are evident traces in Gothic style, is very modest. Inside it is largely frescoed or painted in tempera. The interior of the church, in addition to a late altar and a stone statue of San Leonardo, no longer offers anything of its primitive structure. You can still see the frescoes that used to cover the structure almost entirely.

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The chapel on the right is illuminated by a small panel depicting the Crucified Christ against the background of a Renaissance city. The wall in which it opens shows various representations including the Crucifixion of Christ with the images of Our Lady, the Annunciation,

St. John and another disciple, St. Leonardo, a Madonna of Humility, the Virgin with the blessing Child who has a white dove on her left.

La Madonna delle Tre Porte

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On the Murgia Timone, about 300 meters on the right of the crypt of Sant'Agnese, you will find the rock sanctuary of the Madonna delle Tre Porte. The original entrance has completely collapsed.

The interior has a pseudo-rectangular plan with the smaller sides symmetrically opposed and moved by three apse cavities. Four massive pillars were once to mark the underground space. Currently the two anterior are ruined, while the two posterior conserve integrates the rough structure. 

The pillars are all connected to each other by thick parabolic arches that stand out on the flat ceiling and have elegant movements of thrusts and counterthrusts to the entire architectural complex. There are no traces of wings found but inside the Crypt is decorated with numerous scratched crosses and with some rare niche. Many and precious are the frescoes present.

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