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The Cloister of S. Francesco di Leonessa


[image ALT: Two sides of a rather plain two-story tile-roofed cloister. The lower story has four large round-arched bays on a side, the upper has eight smaller arcades alternately separated by square pillars and more slender columns with Romanesque capitals. It is the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Lazio (central Italy).]

The N and E arcades.

It's odd that none of the guidebooks I have on Leonessa mentions this cloister, not even the fine print of the TCI guide Lazio, not even the otherwise very useful La Chiesa di S. Francesco di Leonessa, published by the Confraternita di Santa Croce right in town, and dated 1999. Still, the cloister exists. . . . I suspect that it was only recently restored, and must have been unvisitable for many years or even many decades: the 1979 earthquake worked a lot of damage on S. Francesco and the church has undergone major restoration; and in fact, when I visited in 2004, a new museum was still being installed in what looks like the monastic refectory. At any rate the cloister of S. Francesco is a beautiful place well worth visiting.


[image ALT: An interior view of two sides of the upper story of a medieval cloister with timber truss roof, taken from one of its corners: to the left and right, arches stretch away alternately separated by square pillars and more slender columns with Romanesque capitals. It is the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Lazio (central Italy).]
A more intimate view of the N and W arcades from the shaded second floor.

The capitals — in my sampler here, the photos open full-size in another window; 2 is a detail of 1 — are interesting in several respects. The most striking point is their diversity: shapes and moldings are so different that I suspect they may have come from other, earlier buildings; some of the carving, 4 for example, is quite primitive.


[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]

[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]

[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]
			
[image ALT: A primitive medieval stone capital, one of many in the cloister of S. Francesco in Leonessa, Italy.]

The feature that grabbed my attention at the time, and that I still wonder about, is the curious little concentric-circle motifs most prominently seen on 2, 5, and 6, but also on 4 and 7. At first I thought they might be more than decorative, that they might have some kind of meaning; later that day though, I found two more instances of very similar motifs, at the bottom of door jambs in each case: the first about half a kilometer away, on the chapel of S. Maria della Visitazione just outside town, and the second on what appears to be, at least now, a private house in the frazione of Villa Gizzi, about 4 km distant. This makes any esoteric significance much less likely, and these dots, which I've never seen anywhere else, were probably just a local fashion; or, just possibly, a stonecarver's signature. If you have better information on them, please do drop me a line, of course.


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Page updated: 29 Oct 10

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