Village of Palagianello

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Crypt of Saint Andrea

Archeological sites

The rupestrian Church of Saint Andrea is in an isolated hamlet separated from its original context, and it is not accessible through its original entrance because the gravine has collapsed due to the perpetrated excavations of the stone building mines. It is to be considered a lucky situation that the church stands on the slope of the gravine, about 10 mt. high as opposed to the level of the mine which totally surrounds it. The actual entrance was built  recently with a new door opened on the northern side of the bema, which is accessible through a long sloping stair of a farm whose praiseworthy owner protects the ancient monument against  vandals. The old entrance on the western side, was a big and pointed arch door and it is one of the best  monumental and solemn doorway among the rupestrian Apulian churches. The arch has on the southern pier a small niche for the lamps. The trapezoidal narthex has its smallest base towards the entrance while the biggest base is towards the square. The ceiling is barrel vaulted. In the middle of the vault there is a small symbolic dome 45cm in diameter which is like a slim plane disc surrounded by a thin ferrule. In the northern and southern sides of the narthex there are two sepulchral arcosolium, whose tombs were recently opened because  there are bone rests in the narthex soil. The two arcosolium are different, the former is a reduced arch on the southern wall with the tomb in eastern-western position; the latter is an exceeded arch on the northern wall with the tomb in the eastern-western position. In the inferior part of this latter arch a cross is carefully carved. On the archivolt a Greek inscription is carved which is not completely visible due to the bad conditions of the rock which has been eroded by the wind. At an unspecified date, a little door was opened and then walled up in the eastern third of this arcosolium. In this occasion a tomb was discovered which was partially destroyed. Consequently the tomb of the southern arcosolium was destroyed. On the eastern wall of the narthex there are the rests of a painting which is the representation of Saint Giorgio riding a horse better  preserved than some descriptions made by predecessors, however the Saint appears mutilated in many important parts of the painting. Nearby the center of the eastern wall, slightly on the right, a pointed, wide and elegant arched door is the access between the narthex and the square. At the shutter height of the arch, in the pier there are some holes probabily big beams where there was a door with two shutters between the narthex and the square. Under one of these two holes of the northern pier shutter there is a badly preserved deep incision which seems to be a cross inscribed in a circle of 22 cm in diameter – with inscriptions now visible in the quarters – and surmounted by a trapezoidal element. The square area with the northern and southern sides are of 385 cm of length, the eastern one of 533 cm., the western – nearby the narthex – is formed by three elements which are not aligned, the first is central and is in correspondence to the door, the other two lateral ones– each of exactly 207 cm. – are diverged towards east and in the opinion of the architect it should be 20 feet. The walking area seems to be reduced. The level of the square floor originally was inferior by half a foot compared to the narthex one. On the northern wall there is an incision of a pointed arch 2 meters high from the original floor, in which were excavated four little niches; the latter on the east was filled with pebbles and mortar when in 1590 a tempera painted on the mortar coating  of Saint Vito was done. Nearby Saint Vito there was a fresco (recently destroyed by the excavation of a square niche) of Saint Nicola (where an exegetic Greek inscription is actually visible) and of another Saint whose only rest is his bald forehead. This fresco is smaller than usual, because the painter was conditioned by the earlier niches excavated in the incision. In front on the southern wall, well preserved, there is a big fresco of the Virgin and Baby Jesus with Saint Andrea. The entrance between the square and the bema was constituted by two arched doors of the same height but different in width. They were divided by a pillar. The pillar and part of its archivolts destroyed probably during a period when the area was used and pillars have to be removed. During another more recent period when the area was essential a compensation wall was built up to the old arches so the entrance between the square and the bema is now accessible through a simple door with an architrave. Contemporary to this wall, another one narrowing the entrance of the arched door between the narthex and the square was built. The destructive and extreme interventions inside the bema stopped the previous researchers from seeing two deep orthogonal niches on the eastern wall , with an apse function, a head-on reduced arch, which slightly passed with the background wall. The two apses, equal in depth in the eastern-western direction, are really different in width. On the background walls there are two little niches, one in each apse, different in shape but almost the same in dimension, with four equilateral crosses carved on them. The original conditions of the floor surface – that nowadays is about 50cm. reduced compared to the square one – may be understood looking at the lateral walls. Especially on the southern wall. (In effect on the northern one there are two recent rectangular excavations, the former in the apse niche the latter exactly before it). The reduced floor difference between the square and the bema was responsible for the destruction of two tombs in the eastern-western position. An elliptical headboard remains in the middle of the actual door of one tomb and a visible profile under the compensational wall of the other tomb. On the northern wall, just before the apse there is a plaster panel (only curls still remain) which once should preserve a fresco of which there remains nothing. On the ceiling there are traces of three pillars which were not considered by the previous researchers except  Mons. Fonseca who writes: “In the second opening there are visible traces of three equal stumps which seemed to be three pillars; in this case an iconostasis can be supposed”. This theory appears extremely credible. It is easy to suppose a remaking of the entrance when the expansion of the church was decided. The narthex in which there were two tombs in its northern and southern sides was not greatly modified: a lintel in the arch was curled at the point of communication between the narthex and the square and a symbolic vault was probably curled on the ceiling. Some lintels were along the two arches between the square and the bema. Anyway, even in this  case the lintels are considered a later intervention, on the contrary the arches were originally present. Originally the arches were supposed to delimitate two big niches – it is not known if they were orthogonal or semicircular – with an apse function. This can surely be considered a structure with only one nave with two twinning apses which are very frequent in ruperstrian architecture. A peculiar element of Saint Andrea’s bema was the iconostasis. It was probably formed by three parallelepiped pillars. The central pillar was aligned with the one which divided the two doors in communication with the square and the existent diaphragm between the two apses.          

The frescoes
A- Saint Giorgio
Position: eastern wall of the narthex.
Original dimension: height 170 cm., width 140 cm.
Exegetical inscription n.2
The remaining part of the fresco is only the top part (the Saint’s face is completely destroyed), a great red fluttering cape, traces of the   posterior of the horse.
B- Saint Vito
Position: northern wall of the square.
Dimension: height 210 cm., width 105 cm.
Exegetical inscription n.3
Painting of late Renaissance dated 1590.
Tempera on dry plaster.
A full-figure of the Saint in the foreground, inside double frame, the exterior part is linear, the inner one is a reduced arch. The treble background of the wall with an ochre central band.
C- Anonymous Saint and Saint Nicola
Position: northern wall of the square.
Dimension: height 140 cm., width 125 cm.
Exegetical inscription n.4
A blue frame inside a big red band.
The only remaining part are the head and half halo of the Anonymous Saint on the left of the observer and more than a head of Saint Nicola recognizable even for the presence of the exegetical inscription.
D- The Virgin with Baby Jesus and Saint Andrea
Position: southern wall of the square.
Dimension: height  202 cm., width 140 cm.
Exegetical inscription n.5, n.6 and n.7.
A big panel with a treble horizontal background  blue/ochre/blue inside a red linear frame profiled with white.
On the left of the observer: a full-figure of the Virgin of Odegitria type holding a Baby Jesus sitting in her left arm. On the right of the observer: Saint Andrea in a grey tunic and a red mantle, with long hair and grey beard. The inferior part of the fresco is almost completely destroyed caused by an excavation in the wall.

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