The Church of Santo Stefano, according to sources from 1335, was the seat of the Disciplinatrici, the women’s section of the Brotherhood of the Disciplinati di Bagnaia.
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THE CHURCH OF SANTO STEFANO
The Church of Santo Stefano, according to sources from 1335, was the seat of the Disciplinatrici, the women’s section of the Brotherhood of the Disciplinati di Bagnaia. The sources give information regarding the use and attendance of the Brotherhood (donations, bequests, and trades) that occurred continuously between the 15th and 16th centuries. With the opening of the new door to the borgo in 1541, and the subsequent closure of the building next to the Church of Santo Stefano, there was a shift in city life to the southern part of the borgo. As a result, the church began to lose importance. Between 1562 and 1593 the church was mentioned for the last time in the inventories of the Instrumenti e Sindacati della Compagnia Confraternale. In the 17th century written references to the church became almost non-existent. The last mention regarding the use of the church by the Disciplinati is in 1732.
In 1755, with a pastoral visit from Cardinal Oddi, we’ve learned that through time the church began to be used as a cemetery. Between 1861 and 1866 the building was sold to a private buyer. In recent times it was used as a warehouse, and shed and a barn. After the second half of the 19th century, it looked as though the former oratory was destined to remain a barn or warehouse. In 1969, only after discovering the precarious condition of the original frescoes of the old church, did people decide to intervene and save the works of art from destruction. The Cassa di Risparmio of Viterbo, in agreement with the Soprintendenza dei Beni Culturali, subsidized the detachment of the frescoes. The original works can be found in the offices of the Cassa di Risparmio of Viterbo. The old church is no longer consecrated for worship and is used as a warehouse for storing clothing and decorations for the Good Friday procession.
The Church of St. Stefano is found at Via Malatesta n°80/a. The entrance of the old church lies at a lower level than the road. The essential layout of the church is still intact with a simple door made of peperino and is topped with a lunette made of terracotta tile. On the right side of the gate is a small square window. On the left is a small door that probably originated as an entrance to the rectory. Above the lunette are two more floors. On the first floor there is a window with a trilithic structure and decorative framing. The top floor has a French door that was built in more recent years.
The interior has a nave with a small apse on the south side. Today, all of the walls are bare because of the detachment of the frescoes in 1969. At the bottom of the room on the left, there is a door that allows access to a small opening, through which the original bell tower is thought to have been located. The restoration of the church carried out by Professor G. Pittà in 1969 allowed all of the frescoes to be catalogued well. The apse basin was decorated with a Madonna con Bambino tra Santo Stefano e San Giovanni. The lunette was decorated with a garland of flowers with a stylized colomba della pace and on the sides, “S.S.,” in reference to Santo Stefano. On the sides of the triumphal arches are San Paolo and San Pietro, on the right and left sides respectfully. The decoration finishes at the top with the L’Angelo Annunciante on the right and the Madonna Annunciata on the left. Along the lower width of the wall, faux architectural marble is found, and an inscription of an explicit Marian devotion is written: SALVE REGINA.
A decoration of a wreath of leaves, faces and a dog are present in the splayed walls of the round window. From the end of the 15th century into the 16th century the north wall housed a fresco with the Madonna assisa con Bambino dated 1507, l’Arcangelo Michele con la psicostasia; le Prove di Giobbe; Santa Lucia; Santo Stefano e una Sacra Famiglia. All are inscribed with dates from the mid 15th century to the beginning of the 16th century. Lastly, the west side houses a Madonna e Santa from the 14th century; una Sacra Famiglia from the end of the 14th century; Crocifissione from the 14th century.
According to recent studies, the works of the church of Santo Stefano present some stylistic and iconographic evidence that suggest a unified design followed by the artists even though they were created during different time periods. There are three different artistic periods. The first occurred during the first development of the church between the late 1300s and early 1400s. The second was during the 30 years between 1470 and the end of the 15th century. The third occurred during the turn of the 15th century, and was probably occurring at the same time as the fresco of the Madonna con Bambino e Angeli. The works are attributed to many different artists from Giovan Francesco d’Avanzarano, called “il Fantastico”, to Balletta and Angelo da Vignanello.
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