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S. Michele di Limigiano:
A Church at Risk

[image ALT: The interior of a two‑story-tall vaulted rectangular stone church, with arches on either side and the altar in front of us, with behind it a cul-de‑four choir with a single narrow axial lancet window. It is a partial view of the interior of the church of S. Michele in Limigiano, Umbria (central Italy).]

The church of S. Michele is nominally Gothic but feels closer to Romanesque, mostly because the arches are only very timidly ogival, and the windows are small. It would be interesting to see whether this is a purely superficial impression: i.e., whether the basic structure handles stresses like a Gothic church, which could have allowed the architect to introduce more light. At any rate, austere in its lines and subdued in its decoration, it's a beautiful church.

Unfortunately, the church is having water problems. Let's look first at this angel, near the front door: almost certainly the church's patron, St. Michael himself, since he must be holding a spear, the sharper end of which must once have been embedded in the enemy dragon:

[image ALT: A fragment of a painting depicting an angel, showing many small streaks of deposit from water infiltration. It is a fresco in the church of S. Michele in Limigiano, Umbria (central Italy).]

Now the abbey church of S. Michele was completely overhauled in 1947; and although I don't know for a truth that all the paintings were fully cleaned at the time, such is common practice, and I suspect they must have been — for one thing, restorations are usually marked by the style of their own period, despite every attempt to prevent it, and the face you see has a certain mid‑20c look about it — so that this recent-looking water damage must in fact postdate the restoration.

Based on what I do know about other churches in the area, it seems most likely that the main tremors of the 1997 earthquake, the epicenter of which was at Colfiorito, less than 25 km from Limigiano, dislodged something in the roof, or caused the walls to bow out slightly, resulting in infiltrations that damage the walls every time it rains: that, at any rate, is the pattern elsewhere in Umbria.

In the case of our angel above, the water has just been running down the vertical wall; but the situation gets much worse on some of the ceilings of the church, where instead of fast-moving rivulets, we've had water slowly pooling before it drops to the floor:

[image ALT: A roughly triangular painting depicting an old man and an indistinguishable animal, much damaged by mineral deposits from water infiltration. It is a section of a vault, depicting St. Mark, in the church of S. Michele in Limigiano, Umbria (central Italy).]

On a vault depicting the four evangelists, on the gospel side of the church, St. Mark had undergone the least damage at the time of my visit in 2004, yet it is significant. His lion, further down in an area where water would no longer pool, has fared much better.

This old church, though, is still very much alive, as we can see from the following; but water could be fatal here as well, if in a more modern way:

[image ALT: A light sculpture made of neon tubing, depicting Christ crucified. It is a detail of the interior of the church of S. Michele in Limigiano, Umbria (central Italy).]

Neon sculpture of Christ crucified, on the W wall under the windows over the entrance door.

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Page updated: 28 Jul 04