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The Church of S. Giovanni de Butris

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The church is built on some arches of a Roman bridge carrying the Via Flaminia over the River Naia. The river is now a tiny creek about 40 yards offscreen out the lower left-hand corner of this picture.

If this church seems somehow familiar to you, you've seen it, at least subliminally, on every Italian webpage of mine: this beautiful scene is my icon for Italy.

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The line of poplars is the creek I mentioned. It is easily jumped over, and certainly doesn't seem to warrant the massive Roman masonry. At first, one's mind runs to "oh well, landscapes change, rivers once big are now small", etc.

But I've seen this apparent overkill elsewhere — no instance more striking than the colossal bridge over the Nar at Narni — and wonder whether this was just the safety factors in Roman engineering: without the precise mathematical bases of modern structural engineering, it may just be the most practical thing to do.

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The interior of the church has been professionally vandalized: the abandoned frescoes, 16c or 17c from the looks of them, have all the faces carefully scalpeled away, and are probably in someone's apartment in New York or Paris. Still, here is what's left.

Destruction comes in other less avoidable forms as well: the 1997 earthquakes have caused some damage to the church; the Soprintendenza Archeologica per l'Umbria had a page on it, but the page has vanished.

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Site updated: 26 Jul 04