OLD ROMANESQUE CHURCHES

Ecclesiastical art does not have to be boring! On the contrary, prepare to be captivated when visiting one -or all!- of these five wonderful churches in our area, one in each municipality. We will take you on a tour that will surely inspire you to go and see for yourself.
We start at Castelli and look up at the sky – or rather, at the impressive ceiling of the small medieval church of San Donato, not far from the old town. The famous Carlo Levi (of Christ stopped at Eboli) said it all in 1963, when he called it the “Sistine Chapel of Majolica”.

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One look, and you will undoubtedly agree. Note, however, that the ceiling you are looking at in the church is a copy of the original, which was removed to preserve its condition over time and is now exhibited at the local museum. We would advise you to visit both the church and the museum, in order to appreciate the original location as well as the detail of the art work. You will not be disappointed.
As to why this precious and valuable work was commissioned, it appears that the entire ceiling is an offering to Our Lady of the Rosary by all the inhabitants and craftsmen of Castelli: 800 ceramic tiles depicting the lives of saints, apotropaic animals to protect from evil, floral and geometric motifs, and more. A truly unique and spectacular work of art.

 

Slowly descending on the panoramic ring road of our Valley (SP 491), you will follow the Mavone river to find the church of San Giovanni ad Insulam (also known as San Giovanni Ad Mavonis). It is situated on a hill, at a historical important crossroads, with a convenient parking lot by the roadside.
The origins of this church date back to about 1000 A.D., with different parts built at different times in the following centuries. It used to be part of an abbey, with some traces of walls and arches still visible. The church rises above a crypt, which is open to visitors.

 

The church facade is decorated with splendid bas-reliefs of imaginary animals, and the small stone altar of the crypt inside takes the most imaginative souls into a prelude to an English gothic novel, with a fairytale view of the surrounding mountains.
Let yourself be drawn in by this fascinating story of stone, and imagine the weddings of important people that were celebrated here because of the breathtaking panorama (most recently that of Jarno Trulli, a Formula 1 driver originally from this area).

 

Continuing on the road along the river, follow the sign for Ronzano on your right, where you will find one of the most beautiful churches in Abruzzo: Santa Maria di Ronzano.

It was bought by the noble Acquaviva family (who were also in large part responsible for builing the towns of Atri and Giulianova), as the personal domain of the Count of Atri, around 1669. Taking in the view of the nearby mountains and its beautiful location in the valley, it is easy to understand why.
This Romanesque church, imposing and austere, was part of an abbey, where an annual fair was, and still is held on August 15th. This tradition started in the Middle Ages when business was done in the shadow of the church, and has become almost millenary by now.

 

The historic and romantic setting of this church has always made it a popular wedding venue, offering the beauty of its interior, pleasantly cool temperatures in summer, and a panorama background for unforgettable photographs of a memorable day.
So come and visit this extraordinary church with its sunny facade, and fall in love!

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Church of San Giorgio

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Church of Sant’Antonio Abate

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Church of San Donato

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Church of San Giorgio

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Church of San Donato

Still continuing on the 491 panoramic road, you enter the municipality of Colledara and make for the village of Ornano Grande, near Tossicia. Here you will find the church of San Giorgio.

It almost seems a fortified building with its imposing smooth stone walls. The adjacent parish house, however, and the beautiful and welcoming garden surrounding it, lead us to believe that this too must have been part of a small monastery.

Inside the church, rigid and inflexible, stands the statue of St. George the dragon slayer, to remind us that evil will never win as long as we have the courage to fight it; a message for believers and non-believers alike.

The church is surrounded by the houses of the village, right at the crossroads leading to Forca di Valle and Cerchiara. This location made it a safe resting place for the shepherds during the so-called “transumanza”, the nine-month journey of shepherds and their herds up into the mountains and back, idealised in a poem by the famous Abruzzo poet Gabriele D’Annunzio (1903).

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Our tour ends in Tossicia, the Old Capital of the Valley, where you will find the recently restored church of Sant’Antonio Abate. Its fascinating portal is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the entire province of Teramo. An inscription on the left of the side column tells us it was erected in 1421 by Andrea Lombardo.

 

Take a close look at the portal to find the domestic animals giving birth, hidden in the floral and oak leaf motifs, and the most important animal of all: the pig. At the top of the portal, on the keystone, the statue of St. Anacoreta is depicted right under the gaze of God – above it the faces of the damned, depicted in a strange and disturbing Hell, perhaps even with the face of Satan himself. On either side of the saint, you can see the Archangel Gabriel and the Madonna, in a moving version of the Annunciation reminding us of the fruit of individual choices.

 

This is more than a church: it is a remarkable testimony to the immense power of narration through images, a Bible of the simple, almost an ante-litteram cinema.
All this, so close to the 491, our panoramic ring road, which connects our history and makes us strong, presenting our Valley with a diorama of stories and a kaleidoscope of new friends!

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Church of Sant’Antonio Abate

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Church of San Giovanni ad Insulam

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Church of San Giovanni ad Insulam

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Church of Santa Maria di Ronzano

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Church of Santa Maria di Ronzano

For an art guide, please call:
Chiesa di Santa Maria di Ronzano 320.0792472 | Chiesa di San Donato 335.6565612 | Chiesa San Giovanni ad Insulam 329.7925794