St. Victorinus' Church

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In St. Victorinus’ marshy Plain, between Mount Terminillo and Mount Velino, there is one of the most extraordinary buildings in the whole province of Rieti: the collapsed Church of Saint Victorinus, or, in Italian, the ‘Chiesa di San Vittorino’.

 

In reality dedicated to St. Mary, the church is more popularly known with the name of the plain where it is located, the same name of the old bishop of Amiternum, the ancient Sabine town birthplace of Latin historian Sallust and whose ruins are now in the Province of L’Aquila. During the Ist century AD, the saint was sacrificed by Roman Emperor Trajan to Sabine goddess Vacuna, and he was hanged upside down over the sulphurous waters of the Cotilia Baths (‘Terme di Cotilia’).

 

The martyr was initially worshipped in a small church property of the Farfa Abbey, but the town of Cittaducale decided to build a bigger church. However, like it happened for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, whoever ordered for the church to be erected here at the beginning of the 17th century did not pay attention to the loose soil of the area. It was maybe due to ignorance, or to arrogance, but the damage was irreparable: soon enough, the church half-sunk into one of the many sinkholes characterising this karst landscape.

 

The roof collapsed, the floor opened up. The apocalypse. All things considered, today the church is even more charming in a completely different way than the one originally intended: it appears ghostly, decaying, consumed by the elements, as a creek comes out the portal like a snake from the mouth of the earth, and vegetation grows unconcerned all over the old building.

 

The water gushing out of the spring is clear, cold and characterised by gas emissions; after all, the sulphurous waters of the Cotilia Baths are not far. Mineralised springs are plentiful in the area, since in the plain’s subsoil is full of waters corroding a travertine layer. Hence, the soil can easily collapse, and a sinkhole has also been at the origin of Lake Paterno nearby.

 

Exactly for its surreal atmosphere between gloomy and sublime of Romantic fame, the church was chosen as a location for the film Nostalghia (1983), by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

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