I have an Abruzzo guide book that has an entry for Bominaco (AQ) that says
This small village to the east of L’Aquila has two superb churches: the church of S Maria Assunta (11th – 12th cent.) which is certainly one of the most elegant in Abruzzo, and the oratory of S. Pellegrino (1263) with its wonderful frescoes. The castle is also worth a visit.
That’s all it says, nothing else. That entry is in the Medieval Abruzzo section of a chapter on Art and Architecture.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised as the guide tries to cover a lot in less than 100 pages and not many places get more than a few lines.
But Bominaco deserves a lot more than that. I thnk it is one of the most important places to visit in Abruzzo. It checks all the boxes except perhaps proximity to the Adriatic. Its high up at around 970m, with great views of the surrounding countryside (those pesky Abruzzo views again!), it has a ruined castle that you can walk up to and explore, it has walking trails down to the town of Caporciano and Navelli, it has two churches and one of these churches has the most exquisite frescoes I have ever seen.
We had a picnic on the grass within the walls of the castle ruins. We ate while looking out at wonderful scenery. We saw birds of prey circling below us, searching for lunch in plains below. The sun was shining; the clouds were scurrying and casting shadows in their wake. But taking all this into account if I was asked why you should visit Bominaco I’d have no hesitation in saying “the frescoes in the Oratorio of San Pellegrino”.
Those of you who read my last post on Capestrano (AQ) might now understand why I was so pleased (after the fact) that we didn’t visit a church there. I have a limited capacity for churches and church art but to have missed the frescoes in the Oratorio of San Pellegrino, and not to be of a mind to study them, would have been a sin.
We left Capestrano and headed to Bominaco, via Caporciano (Bominaco is part of the comune of Caporciano). We parked outside the oratory and phoned the key holder. The churches are usually locked but there’s a notice indicating a number to call if you want to go inside. You’ll be expected to make a contribution to the upkeep of the churches and I think that’s only fair. The key holder doesn’t just open and close the doors. She’s your guide and she takes time to go through the history and the art of the churches and to help you understand the significance of the frescoes in the lives of the congregation.
We phoned and agreed a time that allowed us to go explore the castle and have our packed lunch before seeing the churches.
I’ve visited a few castles in Abruzzo and it’s usual to have a steady trickle of visitors. In the case of Rocca Calascio that steady trickle is probably a steady stream. But we spent a good hour and a half enjoying our picnic, in the ruins of this 13th century castle and the only sign of other humans was the odd car moving slowly on the roads below. We had it to ourselves. It was so peaceful you couldn’t help but relax.
Although it’s mostly a ruin, the 15th century watch tower built by the Fioravanti Counts of Forfona, still looks in good shape. For the rest of castle, you’ll need to engage your imagination to try to see what it would have looked like in its prime.
At the appointed hour we made our way down the narrow track to meet the gatekeeper! (Forgive the phrase but I’m feeling a tad medieval.) It was time to see the inside of the churches. We first went into the Oratorio of San Pellegrino. On entering I just started grinning. I looked around at the frescoes and was stunned by how well preserved they were. Granted they were significantly faded on one wall but they were so clear and sharp everywhere else. They tell the story of the childhood of Christ, the Passion, the Final Judgment and the life of Saint Pellegrino. But that’s not all. Along with these scenes there are also references to a yearly calendar and what looks like the zodiac. We were all surprised to see references to such a non-Christian discipline as astrology in a place of Catholic worship but we were assured that the monks were students of natural sciences and that included the positions of heavenly objects, we’re talking astronomy not astrology.
According to tradition, the church was founded by Charlemagne who, while in Abruzzo , had dreamt that a pilgrim had begged him to complete a church in honour of San Pellegrino.
After a while our guide (the key holder) commented that I had been grinning broadly ever since I came into the church. She was right. There was so much to see in such a small building. I asked if I could take a photo and she indicated that unfortunately it wasn’t normally allowed. I said I understood and once again said how marvellous the frescoes were. Then out of the blue I was given permission to take one photo of each wall. I took that to mean four photos, so I size them up, looked for the best vantage points, waited to be the last one in the church, and quickly took four photos. I hope you like them.
I know that a great amount of church art is intended to depict important scenes from the lives of saints but this is the first time I’ve ever felt as though I was looking at the equivalent of a book for those who cannot read. Since only the monks and some nobles were likely to be educated it dawned on me how important frescoes and other form of religious paintings were in the lives of the faithful. A bit of a “duh” moment perhaps.
Next we had a look at the Abbey of Santa Maria Assunta. This is a bigger more solid looking building and I’ve read it has a similar structure to San Liberatore a Majella in Serramonacesca (PE). The Abbey is a fine example of Romanesque architecture with the inside divided into three aisles by seven arches. Tradition says it was founded in 1001 by Odorisius, son of Bernardo di Valva. It also has frescoes but they are not as striking as those in the oratory.
After examining the abbey we wandered around the grounds again taking in the outside of the impressive buildings. We gave our contribution to the upkeep of the churches and went on our merry way home.
I hope you get a chance to visit.
One of the photographs from this trip appears in my Abruzzo 2011 Calendar in aid of the Italian Red Cross. Click here to preview the calendar, find out more and order your copy.