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S. Felice di Giano:
The Crypt


[image ALT: A low room lit by one small window, and crowded with columns spaced no more than 2 meters apart, from each of which spring small vaults. At one end, a small stone table; various other furniture clutters the space. It is a view of the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

Thru a dense forest of columns, an oblique view towards the altar.

As we saw in the preceding page, the raised presbytery of a Lombard-type church creates a space underneath that is almost always made into a second sanctuary, somewhat improperly called a crypt. Since the mass of a large stone platform has to be supported, yet in the early Middle Ages the means to send the stresses off to the sides had not yet been found, a serried array of columns is about the only way of having any space at all down here: it's an awkward solution.

I wrote "almost always" just to hedge my bet, because I've never seen another use for that space. If you know of a Lombard-plan church (especially in Italy) where the situation is different, please drop me an e‑mail, of course.

Most of the carving in the crypt of S. Felice is very plain: for example, the two left-most capitals in the photo above. The remaining sculpture is more elaborate, but primitive; and I don't think we can look for any particular meaning or cohesive iconography. The technique is usually incision or low relief carving — the foliaged capital below is the only exception I remember seeing — and the capitals are clearly the work of different carvers; but one of them had seen a classical Roman Ionic capital somewhere, accounting for the volutes in several of the pieces:


[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]
	
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a capital in the crypt of the church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

Each thumbnail opens to a larger photo; some of the photos will be fuzzy.


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Page updated: 21 Aug 04