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S. Felice di Giano:
The Abbey Church

[image ALT: A short rectangular stone hall of 5 arched bays supported by columns; the area near the viewer is a raised platform, on which stands in the foreground a stone altar. It is a general view of the interior of the abbey of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

A reverse view of what you saw on the orientation page:
from the main altar back to the door.

The church of S. Felice is a perfect example of the so‑called "Lombard plan", in which the presbytery is very markedly raised above the level of the nave. The Lombard plan is one of several ways in which Christians have sought to emphasize the sacredness of the space where the liturgy is actually performed, separating the priest's space from the people's. Personally, I much prefer it to the commonest solution, once seen in most of Western Europe's cathedrals and still the method adopted by most Orthodox churches today, which consists of screening the altar and the celebrants behind a rood-screen or wall: here, the little guy (you and I) can see the Mass as well as hear it; at least, as you notice from the photo above, if we don't sit too far forward.

In the absence of documentary evidence, scholars are divided as to the date of the church as we now see it; estimates range from mid‑10c to as late as the 13c. My own personal feeling is something like late 11c; certainly the capitals in the crypt are at least that old, although of course they may have been reused from a previous building; similarly with the capitals in the presbytery, in this case atop a repaired Roman column:

[image ALT: A fluted column about 6 meters tall, from which spring 2 arches, one to the right, the other to the left. In the background can be seen a small closed oor at the top of a short flight of stairs. It is a detail of the interior of the abbey of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

But then, hiding behind the potted dracaena to the right of the stairs up to the presbytery, we have this, which is surely earlier than the 13c:

[image ALT: A section of a wall of squared stone blocks, one of which has been decorated with a primitively incised beast. It is a detail of the interior of the abbey of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

The Lombard plan offers another advantage. The raised upper platform creates a smaller enclosed area beneath it; and all on one level, strewn with the columns needed to support the upper structure, that area is a very different worship space: the builders achieve the flexibility and contrast of two churches for the price of one. The crypt of S. Felice, then, is no surprise.

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Page updated: 21 Aug 04