The Most Holy Trinity Complex in Venosa

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The Most Holy Trinity Abbey
The Most Holy Trinity Complex in Venosa is one of the most relevant monumental site in southern Italy, made unique by the traces left on stone by Romans, Lombards and Normans. The complex is made up of an ancient Church (or old) and the Unfinished (or new), never completed. The hypothesis on its foundation are still debated. For many scholars, it was built by Benedictines before the Norman advent. The original core was a Paleochristian Basilica founded between V and VI century, on the remains of the pagan temple dedicated to Hymeneos. The Romanesque basilica was sanctified by pope Niccolò II. In the same year, Robert Guiscard wanted the Church to be a Hauteville memorial chapel, moving the Hauteville’s tombs inside the Church: his brothers William Iron-Arm’s, Humphrey’s and Drogo’s (and he himself will be later buried there too).

The ancient church
The Church has a Paleochristian structure with a basilica plan and a wide central nave with the apse placed at the back; this linear structure, during time has undergone a number of changes since the VII century until the reconstructions made by Lombards (X century) and Normans (between XI and XIII century). The portal of the church was built in Romanesque style and features two stone lions on the left side and four projections, corresponding to the four façades overlapped during the centuries. From right to left: the first projection dates back to the Norman period, between the XI and XII century, the second is Lombard, dating back to X century; the third is dated VIII-IX century and the fourth is the side entrance of the Paleochristian Basilica. Entering the building, a number of sculptures from different epochs are immediately noticeable, mostly Romans. An example is the Friendship Column, a Roman work surmounted by a Byzantine capitol. The name stems from a tradition stating that walking around it hand in hand with someone guarantees eternal friendship, whilst to newly-married women propitiates fecundity. Before the entrance, two façades are visible: the first is made up of a portal projected by Master Palmieri in 1287 and at its left is a XV-century fresco portraying St. Christopher. The second façade is a massive porch arch, followed by other two arches, surmounted by a blind small-arches gallery. Next to the façade is the stairway leading up to the ancient monastery. The structure inside is Paleochristian. The central nave is divided into other four with large arches (eight on the left and six on the right), the semicircle-shaped apse is placed at the back. In the right nave is the Hauteville tomb, where Robert Guiscard, William Iron-Arm, Humphrey and Drogo from Normandy, in Venosa since the beginning of XI century as mercenary warriors, created the first united reign in southern Italy. Once the bodies rested in single coffins, the bones were later collected into an ark in the XV century. Documents describe the Guiscard’s tomb epitaph, from which we understand he was surnamed “Terror Mundi”. In the left nave is Alberada di Buonalbergo’s (also Aberada) tomb, Robert Guiscard’s wife. She married him in 1053 but she was soon repudiated for Lombard princess Sichelgaita of Salerno. Aberarda and Guiscard had a child, Bohemond I of Antioch, hero of the First Crusade, who died in Canosa in 1111 and was buried there. On the architrave of Alberada’s monument, an inscription written in Latin testifies his burial: «GVISCARDI CONIVX ABERADA HAC CONDITVR ARCA / SI GENITVM QVÆRES HVNC CANVSINVS HABET», << Aberada, Guiscard’s wife, is buried into this ark. If you’re looking for her son, Canosa has it>>. Next to Abrada’s tomb is Raffaele and Emilio Acciaiuoli sepulchre (XV century), lords of Melfi coming from Florence. Still in the left nave we find a small-brick flooring as part of the Paleochristian Basilica and on a lower level, the mosaic floor of a Roman domus dating back to the II-III century AD, imperial period.

The New Church or the “Unfinished”
The building of the church was begun reusing stones taken from Roman, Lombard and Jewish monuments. The project dates back to the XII century, when the Ancient Church was considered too small to contain a bigger number of faithful. The apse was widened at its back so as to create a larger basilica. The works began at the half of 1100, but slowed down gradually because the wealth available wasn’t enough and the Benedictines had to leave Venosa due to the closure of their monastery by pope Bonifacio VIII in 1297. The complex was given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (later known as Knights of Malta), as they had lost their possessions in Palestine during the last Crusade. But the Order defined the “Palazzo del Balì” as their headquarters. Since they abandoned the Trinity complex, the building was never completed on an architectonical level, but in the XIV century a new portal and a bell-gable were added.

The Most Holy Trinity Complex

The facade of the Church of the Holy Trinity

The tomb of the Altavilla

Detail of the Unfinished Church



is not merely a place: it is an avant-garde idea generated and nourished in an Italian province, quite far from huge capitals.

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