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Basilica Minori di Maria SS. Incaldana

The Minor Basilica, also known as the Church of S. Michele intra moenia or still as the Collegiate Church of S. Giovanni Battista, is the religious center of Mondragone. Built along the road (now Via del Santuario) that led from the so-called "Piazza" to the Porta di San Nicola, one of the main arteries of the historic Mondragone, the Church has undergone considerable transformations over time, which have rearticulated its original layout. As was the case with the Annunziata, this sacred building was also built at the behest of the Carafa family, at the turn of the sixteenth century.

It is useful to remember that, in a report in the vernacular on the state of the diocese in 1589, sent by the bishop of Carinola Nicola Antonio Vitelli(1583-1594) to the Sagra Congregation, the existence, in the land of the Rocca di Mondragone, was "Rectory" dedicated to San Giovanni Battista, still under construction. For the continuation of the construction works of the religious building, the heirs of the now deceased Prince of Stigliano and Duke of Mondragone had been elected who, after his death in 1579, would have had to take charge of completing the structure, which had become their property. The building in question is the same church of which Luigi Carafa, at his expense, completed the construction, as established in the will of his father Antonio, who had instead begun the construction of the new religious center.

The Collegiate Church of San Giovanniwas conceived as a "religious pole" of the entire community, so much so that a primicerium (dignitary with attribution of direction and supervision of the collegiate) and five ecclesiastics making up the collegiate chapter resided there. Due to its importance, unlike the other buildings in the hamlets of the Terra di Mondragone (with the exception of the Annunziata church), it revealed the presence of a basic project, certainly developed by a master builder. The precise iconographic geometry of the building, probably typical of the late Gothic forms that also influenced the Annunziata complex, is the expression of an art that is no longer spontaneous and popular, but wanted by a wealthy client: the feudal lord. The latter, in fact, also used these works to show off the will to affirm a power that often contrasted with that of the men of the church.

With the construction of the collegiate church, the three urban centers of the Mondragonese land at the beginning of the seventeenth century possessed four parish churches. In addition to the building in question, the churches of San Michele, San Nicola and the Annunziata. The original layout of the Catholic temple can be derived from two planimetric drawings from 1713, prior to the expansion works. It was a church with a basilica layout, with three naves, divided in turn into three bays on each side, a transept and three apses with a semicircular plan. Near the only entrance to the building, located before the central nave, there was a baptismal font. The bays of the left aisle were equipped with altars, as well as the two opposite walls of the transept. The presbytery was equipped with an altar surmounted by an altarpiece depicting the Baptist, which separated from the "marble episcopal throne" set against the first left pillar, the choir area from the transept, with a pulpit under the right arch of this environment; in the center there was instead a kneeler, complete with carpet and fixed chair with cushions, specially designed to be used by the Duke and his family. The transept, in the central part, was surmounted by an octagonal drum dome and a vault with eight spindles; the central nave was covered with a wooden roof and the lateral ones with vaults. To the right aisle, on the other hand, there was an adjoining sacristy whose access was placed on the wall of the third bay. There is also a description of the building in the Apprezzo dei Beni of the fief of Mondragone, on the death of Prince Carafa of Stigliano, in 1690.

Annalogy between the basilica and the church of the Annunziata is the setback of the facade with respect to the wings of the buildings delimiting the roadway, so as to obtain a small urban space conceived to offer a view, now perspective, now front, of the sacred structure. acting, at the same time, also as a meeting place for the faithful.

But the layout of this building was quite distant from the new church wanted by the Counter-Reformationthat was to amaze, fascinate, "overcome the limit of reason" and in whose majestic vaults the passage between the closed space and that of the sky was carried out, from the earthly pains to the joys of Paradise. Basically, the system of the Mondragonese sacred building is far from the Mannerist and Baroque churches that arise in the various centers where the Church of Rome had to testify its presence and dissuade the disciples from joining the Protestant Reformation.

The echo of so many clamors - bloodshed due to the exhumation of the Holy Inquisitionthat was to eradicate the evil of heresy - would hardly have reached the fiefdoms of southern Italy, where the viceregal government was, in some ways, more suffocating than the Church itself. It is therefore normal that in places where art is linked to philosophical and ideological phenomena that must be made tangible, it has had great development; but in the smaller centers, where it is possible to impose the power favored by a strong mass ignorance, such artistic forms come only by reflex. It was enough to create a new and larger sacred building, which could with dignity accommodate, in addition to the mass, also the bishops, to extend their stay in the place and contribute to the embellishment of the building itself.

The fiefdom was quite large and the religious structures had to be capacious, at least those of the political and economic center of the Mondragonese land. Next to the church was the palace, which housed some bishops of the Diocese of Carinola during their stay (also allowed by the fact that a dignified building had been made available to them). When the shuttlebegan (probably already with the construction of the collegiate church) between Mondragone and Carinola, two important centers belonging to the feud of the Carafa and then of the Grillo.

The new feudal lords who ruled the Land of Mondragone, the the Grillo De Marimarquises of Clarafuentes "Magnati di Spagna" who arrived from Genoa in 1692, began the works of enlargement of the collegiate church, in order to give it a new identity ​​after re-establishing a peaceful relations with the Carinolese Episcopal Curia. The Grillos— because of the disagreement with Bishop Cirillo and the defeat in court — felt the need to get their rights over the church of their fief be recognized, as it already happened with the Carafa dynasty. To achieve this, they had to sponsor the almost total destruction of the old structure wanted by the Carafa and the construction of a new and more impressive religious building. The consecration took place on April 14, 1727.

The transformation of the religious building was carried out with the expansion of the side chapels and their transformation into aisles covered with cross vaults. In the central nave, the old roof covering it was later replaced by a barrel vault by reinforcing the walls and pillars together with a system of external buttresses. The new barrel vault had three nails on each side, in the lunettes of which large openings were formed to illuminate the space. The entire vault was enriched in the 1940swith a series of plasters and frescoes depicting saints and prophets. The semicircular apseswere replaced by quadrangular rooms, one of which was covered in a central area with a large cross, while the lateral ones were closed with domed vaults. The transept will still be barely visible on the map though, while the presbytery will retain the octagonal dome and two semicircular arches.

This arch type represented a typical system coming from the late Gothic architecture, as it was part of a structural system characterized by composite pillars of the same type identifiable between the nave and the apse of the Annunziata church.

On the occasion of the enlargement of the collegiatechurch, the arches of the transept were reinforced by incorporating the composite pillars in a quadrangular section system and eliminating the intrados arches between the nave and the presbytery and between these ones and the apse, but retaining the lateral ones at the same time. As a further evidence of this theory that qualifies the presbytery as a primeval sacred structure — which was referable to the fifteenth century and then enlarged by the Carafa — comes the discovery of circular elements in pipernoid tuff, which constituted two of the four composite pillars delimiting the presbyteral space.This happened right during the recent restoration works (project drawn up by the architects Francesco Miraglia and Corrado Valente;direction of the works by the architect Francesco Miraglia).

The eighteenth century, therefore, was the age through which the building received the greatest and most important restoration works from a structural and decorative point of view by the Carinolese bishops of the time, the people and, first among all of them, powerful feudal lords, who did their utmost to offer valuable works that showed their power, often competing with those commissioned by prelates. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the frescoes and stuccos were later placed in the Cappella del SS. Sacramento (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament).

Texts by Francesco Miraglia & Corrado Valente
Photo by Angelo Razzano
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