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The Railworkers' Chapel
in Terni Train Station

[image ALT: A two-leaf metal-framed glass door with push bars, as one sees in commercial and business locales, leading to a deep rectangular room with benches. Over the door a metal sign with an inscription, transcribed and translated on this page. It is the entrance to the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]

A che ti serve una strada
Se in fondo non trovi una chiesa?

What use is a road to you
If at the end of it you don't find a church?

These unprepossessing metal-framed doors might lead into any small office building or any store in a strip mall; and if in fact they fronted onto a sidewalk just fifty yards from here, I don't think I'd ever have paid them the slightest attention. But in train stations there's often no shortage of time on our hands, and the inscription over the door is hardly what we expect to see in such a place; open doors and curiosity do the rest — it's to see things after all that we travel — and here I was rewarded:

[image ALT: A narrow rectangular room, about the size of a large living-room, with rows of wooden benches and a center aisle; at the end farthest from the camera, an altar in front of a frescoed wall. It is a view of the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]

The room behind the glass doors turned out to be a chapel; clearly one meant not so much for passengers as for railworkers, and almost certainly designed, at least in part, by railroad personnel. From the old rail coach seats that serve as pews to the signal lamp appropriately used as a vigil light, to an assortment of cogs and wheels and other items that have me completely mystified — I'm not a railroad buff — the chapel in Terni station continues the very ancient tradition of churches built by guilds and showcasing the tools of their profession; for a quiet example from the 13c or so, less than 40 km from here, see the church of S. Martino in Manciano.

Even more to the point, rail work is frequently stressful, sometimes dangerous, and trains serve the public even on Sundays and the church's feast days: although I don't know it for a fact, I strongly suspect that this is a working church, with Mass regularly said here for the faithful, who happen in this case to be workers finding themselves far from home, maybe putting in many hours of overtime or with only a short break on the job.

[image ALT: A patch of wall with a small painting of the Virgin Mary; in front of it, to the viewer's right, a signal lamp in which the light shines thru the Christian monogram IHS. It is a detail in the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A metal bowl, about 60 cm wide, made for some industrial purpose and exhibiting a number of lugs and bolts and rings attached to it, standing on a metal bar about one meter long. It is the holy water stoup in the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]

Vigil light and holy water stoup.

If you know precisely what pieces of railroad equipment we're looking at here, I'd be glad to hear from you, of course.

[image ALT: A surrealist painting of a rough wooden cross standing in a meadow, bounded on the viewer's right by a forested cliff from which a large waterfall cascades into a river that then flows toward us; before the river reaches us, it is intercepted by a sort of terrace with a balustrade in which the supporting columns gradually metamorphose from standard turned forms on the right to seahorses on the left. A few additional curious and indeterminate small objects litter the scene. It is a painting in the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A metal wheel, about 80 cm in diameter, made for some industrial purpose and with eight wooden spokes, standing on edge on an unobtrusive base; the top of the wheel supports a sort of fan of fifteen electric candles. It is a votive light rack in the railworkers' chapel in the train station in Terni, Umbria (central Italy).]

The surrealist fresco behind the altar places it firmly in the 20c and can't help reminding us of De Chirico, but I don't know who painted it. If, as seems likely, a local artist, the waterfall is probably meant to be the falls at Marmore, 6 km SE of Terni, that supply the area's electricity and were the first engine of the town's steel foundries and her industrial development.

Wonder­fully, the slip of paper tacked to the wheel under the electric votive candles is in perfect character: it merely tells us to keep the on button pressed until the light comes on — but it starts with "AVVISO": the preamble to just about every official notice posted in train stations thruout Italy.

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Page updated: 27 May 23