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The Oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa
at Otricoli

[image ALT: A nondescript small two‑story stuccoed stone building fronting on a narrow street; it has a single door with a more or less shell-shaped rococo pediment, and on the upper floor above it, a small rectangular window with a pediment of a related shape. It is the façade of the oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A fringed damask curtain, drawn aside to the left, reveals a narrow rectangular room, about eight meters long and maybe 5 m high, lit at the far end by a round window in the axis of the room and two side windows, square. Beneath the central window, an altar with an elaborate niche containing a statue. Four pairs of wooden pews, accommodating a total of about 24 people, completes this view of the oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

The plain façade, as often enough in Italy, conceals a more exuberant interior. The shot on the right is not intended to be dramatic: by moving aside the entrance curtain, I could take in the entire interior. I expected a larger church.

[image ALT: A horizontal rectangular marble tablet in the oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy). It bears an inscription the text of which is given and translated on this webpage.]

In honorem D. IOSEPHI a leonissa
qvi biennio apostolicvm concionatoris mvnvs
in hac terra obivit
crebrisq. miracvlis illvstravit
confratrvm et fidelivm benefactorvm religio
hoc oratorivm eleganti strvctvra ornatvm
a fvndamentis erexit et apervit
anno salvtis MDCCLXI die xxvi octbris

To God, the Best and Greatest: in honor of St. Joseph from Leonessa who for two years brought the apostolic gift of preaching to this district and illuminated it by frequent miracles. An association of his fellow brethren and of faithful benefactors built this oratory, adorned with elegant construction, from the foundations; and opened it on the 26th of October in the year of our salvation 1761.

S. Giuseppe, a Capuchin friar, was pretty much a local man, and his superiors sent him to preach not very far from home: Leonessa is a beautiful little town in the Lazio 42 km away as the crow flies but 94 km by tortuous roads skirting the Sabine Hills; as we will see, he had traveled much farther than that in his life.

The inscription and the chapel date to just 15 years after he was canonized, but a century and a half after his death: his tour of duty in Otricoli is known to have included Lenten preaching in the year 1600.

[image ALT: A vertical vaulted niche, about 2 meters tall, in an ornate rococo style, flanked by two cherubs with garlands and foliage, and surmounted by a pediment broken by an oval medallion with a coat of arms. In the niche, a statue of a robed Capuchin friar, haloed and holding a palm. It is the altar niche in the oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A oval-to‑rectangular rococo plaster medallion, of shells and scrollwork and foliage, framing a fresco of a robed Capuchin friar ascending into the clouds supported by a throng of angels and cherubs. It is a ceiling medallion in the oratory of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

While the conventional images of the brown-robed Capuchin saint in the elegant rococo altar niche and the ceiling medallion don't tell us very much about him, the classicizing oil painting on the left wall (hidden by the curtain in my earlier view of the chapel), tells us rather more than the casual tourist wants to know, the torture inflicted upon S. Giuseppe by the Turkish sultan — with whom his preaching obviously sat less well than with the inhabitants of Otricoli — awkwardly set against a rather good landscape background in the style of Poussin: but to the person who comes here to pray, each in its way is a reminder and a local example of the rewards vouchsafed the faithful who suffer in Christ's name.

I give a fuller biographical sketch of the saint, details about his canonization, and further links and references, on my pages on the church of S. Giuseppe in Leonessa.

[image ALT: A vertical painting, oil on canvas, showing a robed bearded friar, hanging by two chains, one suspended by a hook in his right hand, the other in his left foot, from a high beam. He holds a crucifix in his left hand, on which his gaze is fixed; the background is a vaguely classical scene with two soldiers walking away toward a tall free-standing column and part of what may be a palace. It is an 18c or 19c painting depicting the sufferings of S. Giuseppe di Leonessa in Turkey; it hangs in the oratory of S. Giuseppe in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

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Page updated: 14 Feb 08