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Church and convent of S. Francesco (or of the Annunziata)

The convent complex was built at the turn of the fifteenth century, for the will of Antonio Carafa, Prince of Stiglianoand Duke of Mondragone and Maddaloni, who donated it to the Observant Fathers of the Franciscan order, to whom it belonged until 1809, when it was suppressed following the Napoleonic law for the subversion of feudal and ecclesiastical rights on their property.

The Church of the Annunziata remained closedfor some years after its confiscation, due to it becoming a private property, even if religious functions continued to be performed there. Only in 1917 it was bought, with his own money, by the priest Gravano, who made private use of it until he moved to the narrow parish of San Rufino intra moenia, where he also was a priest. After the small Porta di Mare church was restored and reopened for worship, the Chruch of San Francesco continued to be officiated by Gravano, without even considering the hypothesis of devolving the worship structure to the Diocese, despite the insistent requests of the bishop of Sessa Aurunca. It was right before his death that the priest decided to donate it to the Order of Franciscan friars. Unfortunately, after having had various public uses, today the cloistered facilityis privately owned and, despite being protected by a constraint (which arrived in 1984), it’s not visitable and is now in a worrying state of neglect.

The church building has a facade which is set back from the fifth street that overlooks Via Elena (Elena Street), in order to have a space that could serve as a churchyard, that is the original Piazza San Francesco (San Francesco Square), which is now closed by a grating that has radically changed the urban settlement. Originally, the square was an open space that allowed a better use of the building. One of its characteristic elements was a truncated pyramidal base which was placed at the corner of the facade, and supporting a bell tower, which was never completed that could have represented a real focal point for the urban context. Unfortunately, following a nefarious intervention carried out on the facade of the building in the Sixties, this base was largely destroyed, transforming the remains into a useless spur. The façade does not present elements of particular interest, except for the arched entrance portal; the entire surface has been articulated, since the beginning of the century, in tasteless squares. The interior of the church has a single plan covered by a large barrel vault, with nails that connect the lunettes and the vault itself; inside the lunettes small openings have been made in order to illuminate the environment.

The construction of the hall buildings is typical of Franciscan ecclesiasticalstructures: just think that the first building based on this scheme is the Basilica of Assisi. The great hall was used to gather the believers in a single space, and the walls that surrounded it collected the stories of the Saint. The plant with a single nave without a transept, therefore, takes the value of a distinctive feature of this order, especially in the late medieval period. The construction of the barrel vault with lunettes at the end of the hall in the church of Mondragone required the presence of thick side walls, each one “dematerialized” with the creation of six arched openings with piperno frames.

Inside the arches there are modern and simple altars, surmounted by nichescontaining statues of the saints; these altars have replaced the pre-existing ones, dating back to the 17th century.I Indeed the presenceof altars with paintings of saints in frames and stucco decorations inside the altars is documented in this period. These altered altars, some replaced in the first half of the nineteenth century, were "dismantled" in the Sixties; when compared to the current ones, they appeared to be invasive and strident with the austere simplicity of the environment.

The latter is distinguished by the particular perspective propensity which is amplified by the large barrel vault that surmounts it which finds its focal point in the choir where sacred rites are celebrated, and which is separated from the nave by an arch that follows the composite profile of the piers. The continuity between the arch and the piers is interrupted by a frame that runs along the walls of the nave and the choir. The apse has a polygonalplan covered with a vault divided into segments by a series of ribs placed at the corners of the walls that delimit the room and rise from the floor up to the top of the vault. These decorative elements, that are clearly reminiscent of the Middle Ages, give the room that typical ascending featurewhich is interrupted only by a horizontal break consisting of the frame that extends from the nave and ends in this environment. As for the barrel vault, there are architectural elements that are far from the period in which the religious building was built; if the ribs can be found in Gothic architecture, there are even examples of Romanesque architecture for the roof.

The mixture of elements of the past does not denote the absence of references with the architecture of the time, inscribed within a well-defined artistic movement, which spread in the Kingdom of Naplesfrom the mid-fifteenth century: the Catalan architecture introduced by the Aragonese kings, in particular Alfonso il Magnanimo (1442-1458). He indeed brought numerous workers from Catalonia, who imported an architectural style that is typical of that region of Spain, better known as "Catalan Gothic"; this also justifies the considerable delay that the capital of the Kingdom had for the acquisition of the new artistic forms of the Italian Renaissance.

Experiments with this style are mainly found in architecture, where the theory that Lavedan defines as “avidité spatial”is substantiated; it is, in essence, a constructive dynamic that creates structures that extend in width more than in height, denying the ascensional symbolism that has characterized for centuries above allthe Gothic architectureof the Alps.

Texts by Francesco Miraglia & Corrado Valente
Photo by Angelo Razzano
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