The Convent of San Domenico
At the foot of Mount St Angelo a Tre Pizzi, at 364 metres above the sea level, you'll find the lovely Church of St Maria a Castro, along with the outbuilding Convent of St Domenico overlooking the deep valley of Fontanella. This spectacular structure is situated in a strategic position from where you'll enjoy enchanting views over the village of Vettica Maggiore, Positano until archipelago Li Galli and the isle of Capri.
The unique incomparable natural beauty as well as the loneliness' solemnity made it a cult place from the first anthropizations. These ancient origins may justify the sacrificial altar incorporated into the first nave, that surely was the original nucleus of the Church, subsequently enlarged until the modern five spans.
The church was donated in 1599 from the University of Praiano to the Dominican Friars, who undertook to build the convent. The magnificent convent is subdivided into two levels: there are four cells on the first floor, while kitchen, oven, refectory and cistern are on the ground floor. You'll be delighted from the double series of enchanting vaults, built following an old tradition in the area of Amalfi Coast (like the convent of St Rosa in Conca dei Marini), in order to ensure a perfect insulation.
The static and conservative restoration works have reinstated the splendid vaulted roof. The building doesn't show any peculiar architectural component, and this might be the reason why it's become part, camouflaging itself, of that magic, fascinating environment that makes it so rich in sacredness and mystery.
It's an incredibly beautiful shelter, a mystic combination of human and divine elements. The Church of St Maria a Castro is popular for the secular veneration of Madonna delle Grazie, due to the thaumaturgic value bestowed to the image of the Virgin. There's indeed a big fresco that occupies the whole apsidal basin of the building's left nave. This work of art (1430) is composed by two sequences: the upper register represents a hieratic image of Christ while blessing, accompanied by St Peter, St Paul and the angels; the lower register represents the Virgin with the Infant Jesus sitting on the throne, with musician angels and saints.
On the left, just below the young saint with pen and book at the hand (maybe St John the Evangelist), you'll see a small procession composed by some characters "modernly" dressed, identifiable with the probable oeuvre's donors.
The ideal hinge is constituted by the stunning disposition of volumes around Christ (whose iconography dates back to the late Byzantine tradition) and the Virgin (set into the modern architecture of the throne canopy). The anonymous artist that made this authentic work of art was fully aware of the Renaissance pictorial trends, that were spreading all around the Aragonese Naples and the whole Mediterranean area from the middle of the XV century.
The formidable intuition of the perspective relation among shape, light and colour reveals the assimilation and personal elaboration of Piero della Francesca's technique.
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