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Church of San Michele extra moenia

The church of Sant’Angeloor San Michele extra moenia is the oldest religious building in the historic center of Mondragone. The name by which this religious building is known today is know to be attributed to it in 1741, after the death of the priest who of the Church. The citizens asked the bishop of Carinola to be able to transfer the parish from Sant'Angelo to the citadel, to add it to the collegiate church of San Giovanni Battista.

The bishop chose to split the church into two parishes, attributing the title of San Michele extra moenia to that of Sant’Angelo and the title of San Michele intra moenia to the collegiate church of San Giovanni Battista.

In the Rationes Decimarum of 1308, there was a church of “S. Angelo”, which probably referred to the primitive church of the Villa dei Marchi, later located in the hamlet of S. Angelo. Other news about the church came from the Codex Diplomaticus Cajetanusof 1365 which tells of the concession in emphyteusis to a private individual of a horticultural land of the church of Sant’Angelo, located near the shore of S. Lucia, by the archpriest of Itri.

The Church is located at the entrance of Sant'Angelo(one of the most famous hamlets in the Domitian territory) and, over the centuries, it has undergone different transformations which have changed its initial layout. In this respect, it is likely that it was the subject of restoration works after 1463, the year of the entry of the troops of Alfonso of Aragonin the fief of Sessa, due to the war against the Marzano family; indeed the Catalan troops, during the fortress of Mondragone, took care of razing the farmhouse in the village of Sant’Angelo to the ground. Recent archaeological finds beneath the religious building testify, among other things, the presence of a pre-Roman cemetery site.

These findings could be linked to the ones found in the early twentieth century in Cantarella, a nearby place where, during the extraction of tuff from the quarries on the slopes of Mount Petrino, some simple parallelepiped-shaped tombs were found. They can be dated around the end of the fourth and mid-second centuries BC. To give further evidence of the evolution of the building there is some data that can be easily found, such as the irregularity of the planimetric system and the morphological diversity of the roofs and the consolidation works found in the masonry. All the different building phases of the Church have something in common: the aesthetic and structural simplicity, which is certainly an expression of a poor rural environmentwhich was very tied to itsreligious and civic places of worship. These places manifest in this way community spirit of the village of Sant'Angelo.

The building rises above the streets to which it makes a corner: its interior can only be reached through some stairs that lead to two entrances, both of modest size, one on the west facade and the other on the southern one, just below the bell tower which is part of the church. The western facade is rather simple and unadorned; it has three openings, one of which is aligned with the door and the other two on the sides; they’re all closed with a thin frame that takes on a triangular shape in the central part and is surmounted by a statue depicting the Archangel Gabriel.

The plan is divided into three naves of which the central one, covered with a trussed roof, is small in size and identical to those of some spans of the side aisles. The wooden vault, built in recent times due to the restoration of the Church, aims to reproduce the original vault of the nave. On the axis of the entrance to the nave there’s a small semi-circular apse which houses a table to celebrate sacred rites. On one of the walls on the apse area there’s the entrance to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, which can also be accessed from the right aisle. This chapel is formed by a rectangular space surmounted by a double cross vault. The lighting is provided by an oculus overlooking the Sant’Angelo road.

On the other hand, the side aisles have four arches on each side, the first two visibly smaller than the other two. In addition, the spans have cross vaults with the exception of the third span on the right, which is partially occupied by the first level of the bell tower (where a second entrance has been created) where it sinks into the sacred environment , reducing the space of the nave to a covered corridor with a double cross vault. The arch, which leads into the nave from the corridor, is made of brick just like the front one that leads into the other nave where the masonry, due to the enlargement of the church, has been replaced by tuff ashlars. The structure is indeed made with blocks of gray tuff of local extraction.

The second arch has a key at the top and is slightly larger than the others. The surrounding environment has a ribbed vault unlike the cross vault present in the other arches. The span following the one containing the bell tower continues with the same width and is covered by a barrel vault with a directrix that is parallel to the length of the span and is connected to another room covered with a barrel vault, thanks to an arch that rests on two granite columns (probably the remains of some Roman building). This environment, based on various studies led over the years, had to be completely frescoed. It must have been part of a structure on its own, since its setting was so different from the rest of the structure, perhaps from a primitive church which was then included in the new church and later transformed into a sacristy. Today we can see some fragments of a painting, another decorative element of the place, whose realization is dated between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which can be found between the third and fourth arch of the left wall of the nave.

From these fragments, discovered under the thickness of the painting, a figure of the Virgin Mary and Baby jesus is clearly evident. Furthermore, even if less evident, the figures of the characters who come with the Virgin can be traced, as they were probably the saints.

A structural element of particular interest is the pointed arch(prior to the eighteenth-century interventions), which covers the reservoir of the last span of the left aisle, supporting the thesis according to which the structure of the building is a mixture of interventions from different eras that over the years have constituted a complex spatial unicum. The extension of the church is conclusive evidence, which was carried out during the eighteenth century.

This is evident since there’s an extension towards the west of the structure, with the addition of two bays that have been added to the central body of the nave. In particular, the spans of the left aisle have retained the breadth of the existing ones, with which they merged into a single body. The addition of the nave on the right, on the other hand, took into account the previous structural conformation, which is why it maintains the proportions of the left one for the new part, whereas it has a different articulation where the old part begins (which also contains the environment in which the ancient fresco was found).

The original sacristy, built in recent times and located outside the structure, is also part of the ancient body on the right. Another eighteenth-century addition is the chapel of the Santissimo (Most Holy), whose original entrance was directly from the apse. Over time, this religious structure also had to fulfill the function of a burial ground, with the presence of hypogea in the central nave recently discovered and left occluded, not forgetting the presence of pre-existing elements to the Catholic structure under the church.

Finally, the bell tower also has an environmental value: due to its peculiar position, the tower is placed as a reference for the entrance and the presence of the Sant'Angelo hamlet.

The tower is highlighted by the base and the staircasethat allows you to reach the entrance level, which leads into a quadrangular space covered with a cross.

From this space, through the openings on the sides of the tower, you can access the church. In the other three levels there are, in order: some arched openings, a clock and other openings that contain bells that, in addition to ringing for the announcement of the sacred rites, also mark the chimes of the clock. The latter also gives the bell tower the function of a civic tower, since the current district of Sant'Angelo was, until the nineteenth century, still an isolated nucleus from other settlements that, once united, formed the historic center of Mondragone. And yet, if this structure were to be coeval with the first nucleus of the church, one could not exclude another function carried out for a few centuries as a sighting element, to prevent the surprise effect of any Saracen attacks.

Texts by Francesco Miraglia & Corrado Valente
Photo by Angelo Razzano
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