Orvieto: Sant’Andrea

Church of Sant’Andrea.

There can be no doubt that the church of Sant’Andrea was extremely important once. It is therefore a bit of a pity that the (old?) plaque in the colonnade on the left side of the building is mostly a mine of misinformation. I do not know whether Pope Innocentius III preached the Fourth Crusade here in 1201, but he certainly preached it in other places as well, and the Fourth Crusade was hardly something to be proud of, given that it resulted in the conquest of the Christian city of Constantinople. What is certainly not true is that Pope Honorius III canonised Pietro Parenzo here, the podestà who had been murdered in 1199. Honorius never canonised him. The claim that the same Honorius crowned Peter II de Courtenay, the Latin emperor of Constantinople, here in 1217 is arguably incorrect. Peter was in fact crowned in the church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome. What is, however, true is that Pope Martinus IV (1281-1284) was crowned in this church in 1281 in the presence of Charles of Anjou. In the second half of the thirteenth century various popes were not welcome in Rome for various reasons, so they were forced to relocate to other cities. Orvieto, situated on a high tuff plateau and therefore easily defensible, was one such city.

Interior of the church.

Sant’Andrea’s predecessor was possibly built as early as the seventh century. The remains of this church were rediscovered in 1926, as were the remains of other buildings dating from the Etruscan era, when Orvieto was known as Velzna or Volsinii. The present church was presumably built in the eleventh century and consecrated in 1013 by Pope Benedictus VIII (1012-1024). However, it is generally assumed that the church was rebuilt in the twelfth century and the church façade in 1487. In 1512 the building suffered a complete collapse and the campanile collapsed a mere two years later. The church was rebuilt, but collapsed again in 1926. It was the architect Gustavo Giovannoni (1873-1947) who rebuilt it between 1926 and 1928. To the left of the rose window we can read the Latin text INSTAURATA AD MCMXXVIII.

The façade of the Sant’Andrea has colours that are typical for Orvieto. The stones used are light, dark and sand-coloured, and together they create an interesting contrast. Pink stone was used around the rose window and portal. The modern tympanum above the main entrance features Saints Andrew and Bartholomew; the church is co-dedicated to the latter saint. A rather conspicuous element of the church is its dodecagonal bell-tower. I must say it looks a lot like a water tower. It is also hard to miss the oversized roof of the church transept. This roof is best viewed from the Torre del Moro, a tower that is 42 metres high and can be found less than 200 metres east of the church. Sant’Andrea’s interior is very plain and simple. My travel guide claims that the granite columns in the church that create a nave and two aisles probably date from the Roman era. The church has no ceiling. As a result, the wooden beams and rafters of the roof construction are fully visible.

The Sant’Andrea, seen from the Torre del Moro. Note the campanile and the roof of the transept.

Those looking for great art inside the church are likely to be disappointed, but the church does have a couple of interesting frescoes. The most interesting fresco is about the legend of Saint Julian. He has just accidentally killed his parents who were sleeping in his bed. Julian mistakenly assumed that he had caught his wife cheating on him. Unfortunately the painted Julian no longer has a face or legs, but it is clear that the fresco depicts his legend. One can still see the parents in the bed very well. In the foreground we see the murderer and his wife. To atone for Julian’s sin, the couple went on to perform many good deeds, such as caring for the sick and providing travellers with shelter. In the end it was Christ himself who pardoned the parent-murderer. The fresco to the right of Saint Julian features Saints George and Anthony the Abbot. All frescoes were painted in the fifteenth century. Elsewhere in the church we can admire a fresco of the Franciscan missionary Saint Bernardinus of Siena (1380-1444) which is attributed to the local painter Pietro di Nicola Baroni.

Frescoes of the legend of Saint Julian (left), Saint George and Saint Anthony the Abbot.

As the paintings by Cesare Nebbia (ca. 1536-1622) in the church are not that interesting, I will conclude this post by dedicating a few lines to the sculptures that can be found in the Sant’Andrea. Unfortunately not much is left of the fourteenth century Gothic funerary monument of the Magalotti family (see below). Apparently not much is known about this family, although one may note that a street close to the church is called the Via Magalotti. In the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome I once stumbled upon the tomb of a bishop Gregorio Magalotti, who died in 1537. And in the seventeenth century one Lorenzo Magalotti was bishop of Ferrara. Perhaps these are scions of the same family, perhaps not. The funerary monument in Orvieto is in any case attributed to a follower of the Florentine sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. Apart from the Madonna and Child, we also recognise Saints Peter and John the Baptist on the faded and somewhat damaged fresco.

Fresco of Saint Bernardinus of Siena / tomb of the Magalotti family.

For me the highlight in the church was the pulpit with its Cosmatesque decorations. According to my travel guide the pulpit itself dates from the tenth century. Obviously the Cosmatesque decorations are a little younger. They were added in the thirteenth century and appear to be fairly intact.

Pulpit with Cosmatesque decorations.

Much of the information about the church came from the Key to Umbria website and from Italian Wikipedia. My Dorling Kindersley travel guide on Umbria provided some additional information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.