Via delle Grazie

Via delle Grazie is a paved road—but it used to be just a mule track—running uphill from the Appian Way southwards, keeping outside the citadel and parallel to its western wall. It is along this road that the citadel has its gateway; but several other accesses have been opened later by tearing down portions of walls. One, for example, is located along the same road, slightly more downhill, which connects Piazza del Popolo outside the walls with Via Sant'Angelo inside them.
Pilgrims' Cross This column, erected along Via delle Grazie just opposite the western citadel's gate, marked the presence of the Sanctuary more uphill, in order to guide the pilgrims. Piazza del Popolo with its popular houses As the name "People's Square" suggests, this square hosts housing for common people. It was realized probably in the 16th century outside the town walls, to be used as a market place after the old one, the square on the side of the church of San Michele, was occupied by new buildings. According to a common building practice, most houses are divided into several flats, each of which is accessible with an external stairway. Not all the stairways are the original ones, though. View downhill with the Pilgrims' Cross, and the Tairano in the background The sides of Via delle Grazie are nowadays intensely built up. This is probably a result of the 18th-century expansions, when the middle classes wanted their houses and workshops to be directly accessible from the trunk roads; whereas the defensive role of the town walls (hidden behind the housing on the right-hand side) lost its significance. Landscape of Arpaia from via Piana Mount Tairano overlooks the narrow Saddle of Arpaia. The mountain in the background is the Taburno. Just below it is the Church of San Michele, while the great tower of the town walls can be seen on the extreme right.
The road goes on and reaches the area called Corte dei Cavalieri, where a large part of the town walls is still standing (see the page about the northern part of the citadel); and reaches up the feet of Mount Castello, where the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie has been erected more than five centuries ago. This area is traditionally believed to be the place where the Samnites forced the Romans to pass under a yoke after their victory at the Caudine Forks: indeed, the sanctuary was once called Santa Maria del Giogo, and was attributed to Forchia: a path, indeed, used to connect the sanctuary directly with the neighbouring village. A small and abandoned (but interesting) chapel lies just the other side of the road.

Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie

Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie

In 1454 some kids playing south of the citadel found a picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus, buried in a hole of the ground. The picture, still venerated (and now kept at the Diocese museum of Sant'Agata de' Goti), is realized in gold and wax in a clear Byzantine style. Probably it was placed there in around 730: the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian had just forbidden the worship of religious icon and, at that time, Arpaia was just at the border between the Langobard and the Byzantine possessions; so it is likely that its inhabitants hid that precious picture as they were scared about its destruction.
In any case, the surprising discovery was regarded as a miracle. According to the tradition, the Franciscan friars Bernardino da Siena and James of the Marches immediately started building a church and a convent in the place where the picture was found; its first name was Santa Maria del Giogo (St. Mary of the Yoke), possibly because that place was believed to be the point where the Samnites humiliated the Romans at the Caudine Forks.
The convent was later renamed Madonna della Grazie (Our Lady of the Graces) because of a number of claimed miracles operated by the Virgin in the area. For instance, in 1887 a fire burned up in the church, and as soon as a man ran into it to save the icon of the Virgin, the flames would have miraculously ceased. At that time the convent was part of the estate that the newborn Italian country picked from the church; but after this episode the friars were settled it again and, in 1892, a seminar school was also founded.
During the World War II a bomb was dropped near the sanctuary, so it needed some works of reinforcing afterwards.
The church, currently closed, is located on the left of the convent. The latter is built around a square-planned cloister, whose arcades are entirely decorated with frescoes. On the right side of the convent is the new pre-seminar school, completed in 1941. Cenni storici del Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie in Arpaia [Pro Loco Arpaia]

History of the Sanctuary, written down in 1954. It is written from a rather religious point of view, and therefore focuses on the miracles believed to be accomplished by the Virgin Mary at the Sanctuary.

Overall view of the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie The church lies on top of a staircase, with the convent on its right. It is held by robust buttresses on its left.
Ceramic reproduction of the icon of the Virgin This drawing on ceramic tiles, placed on the retaining wall below the church, reproduces the picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus venerated in the Sanctuary, though in a simplified way. The icon of the Virgin Mary

A photo of the Byzantine icon kept in the Sanctuary.

Pro Loco Arpaia

The front page of the website informs that the icon is kept in Sant'Agata de' Goti and includes pictures of it.

The well and the arcade of the cloister In accordance with the Franciscan tradition, the complex is sober and essential. The convent is based on a squared plant, with a cloister in the middle. Particularly interesting here are the frescoes that cover the ceiling of the walk around the cloister. The well is decorated in Neapolitan-style ceramic tiles.
The cloister, topped by the bell cage The façade of the church The façade is extremely simple, only decorated by a stone portal and a lunette with ceramic tiles representing the emblem of the Franciscans. View of the arcade The arcade is covered by a series of groin vaults, which have been decorated with abstract baroque frescoes. The lunettes just under each vault, instead, carry a representation of historical events, or daily commitments, of the Franciscan friars.
Back view of the convent (on the left) and the pre-seminar school (on the right) Saint Peter of Alcantara, portrayed between two vaults
Fresco representing two Franciscan friars meeting a peasant Another detail of the frescoes Portraits of saints are painted between each couple of consecutive vaults, at the two ends of the arch on the pillar and on the perimeter wall. Ceiling of the cloister walk

Church of Annunziatella

Chiesetta dell'Annunziatella

The church of Annunziatella is a small countryside chapel. It lies on the left side of a road at the feet of Mount Castello, which connects the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie with the Abbey of San Fortunato, running along a very steep ground. Possibly it has been built by the Langobards (who, at the times of their conversion to Christianity, were particularly devoted to the worship of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). In any case, it is mentioned in 1199 as chapel of Sancta Maria de Jugo (a title that later on switched to the nearby sanctuary). Originally its roof was pitched on both sides, delimiting a tympanum in the front. The stone portal is the only element which decorates the latter. Some thick buttresses on its left side were built in order to contrast landslips.
As well as for other churches in Arpaia, the story of the Annunziatella is a sequence of long periods of abandonment alternated with attempts of restoration and recovery. The first restoration was carried out by the Gaudino family between the 16th and the 17th century. After two earthquakes in 1688 and 1702, a new, drastic restoration was financed by a woman called Antonia Girardi. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary was then celebrated here till the 1920s. Currently the church is unused and decaying since 1962.
The most notable element in the interior, covered by two groined vaults, is a fresco of the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus, surrounded by saints. It may date back to the 14th century and is located within a small apse, hidden by the altar. Chiesetta dell'Annunziatella [Pro Loco Arpaia]

History and description of the church.

External view The altar, covering the frescoed apse This altar, currently ruined and deprived of its marble covering (which has probably been stolen during the periods of abandonment), was built in front of the frescoed apse during the 1744 restoration. The picture also show the rear groined vault.
The ruined interior of the church The church is partly used as a deposit. Even its portal has been worn out and opened (and this is the only reason why I have been able to see the interior). The frescoes: the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus, surrounded by saints and doctors of the Church The frescoes in the apse were discovered in 1973. Unfortunately they look quite fragmented, mostly because a layer of plaster that covered them has been removed using a chisel.
Angels painted within the vault of the apse Two of the saints on the right of the Virgin
Copyright 2014 Antonio De Capua