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S. Venanzio
A 20c Parish Church

[image ALT: A large two-story building set among pine trees. It is stuccoed except for the façade, which is of alternate courses of brick and small squared stone blocks. That façade has a single door with a semicircular tympanum with a broad border, and above it, a small rose window. It is a view of the church of S. Venanzio in S. Venanzo, Umbria (central Italy).]

Not every church in Italy is old. San Venanzo's parish church seems to have been built in the twentieth century; until then certainly the 14c church now known as Madonna Liberatrice, about 100 m behind us, would have been fine for so small a town. This building, at any rate, draws carefully on traditional architectural styles, while keeping an eye on its budget: the best materials went into the façade applied to a solid but very ordinary construction behind it (common practice not only in Italy where we find beautiful marble veneers applied to rough masonry buildings, but the world over as well, and in my own neighborhood in Chicago), and the choice of the alternating courses of stone and brick is equally economical.

The titular saint, by the way, is Venantius of Camerino: though the name of the town may have lost a letter over the centuries, the name of the church is properly S. Venanzio, including that i.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the church of S. Venanzio in S. Venanzo, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the church of S. Venanzio in S. Venanzo, Umbria (central Italy).]

[image ALT: missingALT. It is the tympanum over the main door of the church of S. Venanzio in S. Venanzo, Umbria (central Italy).]

Mater frugum nutrica animam meam
Eugenio Faina commise • A.D. MCMXXV • Elisa Mayo eseguì

Mother of the fruiting fields, nourish my soul!
Eugenio Faina commissioned this work • A.D. 1925 • Elisa Mayo executed it

The inscription under the tympanum is nicely thought out, balancing the social and material nourishment of the harvest with our own personal and spiritual nourishment; the key word, nutrica, centered under the Virgin, means both "to suckle a child" and more generally "to feed".

It is also slightly unusual: if the main line is in Latin, as is pretty much the rule in churches, it's in Italian that the donor and artist are credited. The date also is a plain "1925"; but by that time the Fascist calendar was in effect, and we would expect "Year III of the Fasces", even if abbreviated to a III. (Yes, even on churches: see for example S. Domenico in Foligno). From the style of the lettering I suspect, but don't know for sure, that the inscription here has been redone.

The terracotta itself harks safely back to the 15c in the style of the Della Robbia family — no innovations here — and the background (detail view) is traditional as well, showing us the church itself under the sheaf of wheat in Jesus' hand, and S. Venanzo's castle to our right.

Modernity is enough for some to pass a church by altogether: yet I wouldn't mind having this church in my neighborhood, and in a few hundred years it too will be old.

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Page updated: 21 Dec 09