Laura Iseppi

title.none: Dalfino and Mele, Santa Maria di Gallana (Laura Iseppi)

identifier.other: baj9928.0809.004 08.09.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Laura Iseppi, Universit di Verona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Dalfino, Giuseppe and Giuseppe Mele. Santa Maria di Gallana in Agro do Oria: Storia e Architettura. Bari: Mario Adda Editore, 2005. Pp. 108. $11.50. ISBN: $11.5088-8082-600 88-8082-600.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.09.04

Dalfino, Giuseppe and Giuseppe Mele. Santa Maria di Gallana in Agro do Oria: Storia e Architettura. Bari: Mario Adda Editore, 2005. Pp. 108. $11.50. ISBN: $11.5088-8082-600 88-8082-600.

Reviewed by:

Laura Iseppi
Universit di Verona

The destination of a heartfelt procession on the eve of Ferragosto (August 15, also celebrated as the feast of the Ascension of the Virgin since at least the 5th century), the little church of Santa Maria di Gallana, located in the countryside near Oria in Apulia, has been a site of significant Marian devotion since late antiquity. This concise but rather complete volume which the archaeologist Giuseppe Dalfino and the engineer Giuseppe Mele dedicate to its history and architecture--Santa Maria di Gallana in Agro di Oria: Storia e Architettura--is meant to analyse the church's peculiar location and architectonic structure in the larger context of southern Italy's historical vicissitudes. The authors' aim is thus twofold. On the one hand, they provide an extremely detailed and clear reconstruction (supported by a notable number of plans, sections, computer projections, and pictures) of its probable architectonic and decorative development; on the other hand, they suggest a few interesting and stimulating hypotheses regarding its role in the social, religious and historic contexts which saw its birth and, later, its decline.

Locally financed and supported, this short volume is, however, quite intriguing. Divided into ten chapters, it covers all of the aspects that might be of interest to scholars intending to locate the relevance of this church in Apulian, and Italian, culture. The chapters are dedicated to the history of the studies devoted to this church so far, to its topography, to the possible etymologies of the name "Gallana" and to the epigraphic remains connected to it, to the probability that the church was once the centre of a countryside agglomeration named "casale," to its role as a church, to the architectonic analysis of the structure and its construction phases, to the frescoes decorating the interior, and, finally, to the stylistic genre to which it clearly belongs, that of the Byzantine-influenced churches presenting two or more domes (cupole) along the axis of the main nave. The authors are clear in declaring, right from the beginning, that the documentary evidence for some of their hypotheses is simply lacking: all the more reason, in my opinion, to appreciate their attempt at suggesting possible keys to some of the frankly baffling idiosyncratic details of the church's structure and location.

If I must find a fault--but it is a minor one--I wish at times the descriptions were enunciated in a less technical and extremely concise style, and that among the numerous plans presented one was devoted to showing a map of the region discussed and the exact position of the many villages and cities mentioned, since for a reader who is not familiar with the area following the geographical argumentations could prove an arduous task. Since one of the major points the authors make is linked to the unproved presence of a vallum or a limes (cited appropriately in some sources as the "Limitone dei Greci") dividing between the second half of the 7th and the 8th century the territories controlled by the Longobards in the north (area near Benevento) and the Byzantines in the south, it is understandable that Dalfino and Mele were reluctant to include a drawing of it, even though, provided that they had clearly stated in its caption, as they do in the text, that it was a conjecture, such a map would have been very useful.

The history of the church is briefly summed up by recounting how it was erected, presumably starting from an existing non-Christian semicircular wall belonging to a previous construction, in an area belonging to a family of landowners, a gens Gerellana, from which would presumably come the later denomination "Gallana," during the roman empire. Since Roman times, thus, this area constituted a "contrada," a sort of micro-village with a few country houses grouped together, to which in Christian times a church was added between the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century. The terminus ante quem for the church's construction is 1063 when Oria is conquered by the Normans and "Santa Maria di Gallano" is mentioned as a monastery in a document issued by Robert Guiscard. Also thanks to its presumed borderline position, the casale and church saw a period of constant economic and social development, which for the church translated into a major enlargement with the addition to the original single nave structure of two lateral naves and a transept. Another important addition, a circular building located to the north-east of the church and originally separated from the main body, was built later. It was also possible to establish that the interior was decorated in two different instances by cycles of frescoes--now very much faded and ruined notwithstanding a recent restoration--dating approximately between the beginning of the 14th and the 15th century. This period, coinciding more or less with the Angevin domination of this area, witnessed the casale's maximum cultural and social development and the church's apex of prestige as pilgrimage site. By the end of the 16th century, the casale and church were both in sheer decline--the left nave collapsed never to be rebuilt and, at some point at a later epoch, the right nave was converted, as it continues to be to this day, into a private dwelling place. By the 17th century the contrada was reduced to the single masseria (farm) which still bears the name of Gallano.

Even from such a brief excursus it will be possible to note the astonishing superimposition of cultures characterizing this area: from the various kinds of "barbarians" coming from the north to the local "romanized" populations, from the strong influence of the Byzantines who imparted important economic and commercial impulses to the region, along with architectonic and decorative motifs, to the Christian culture syncretically reutilizing pagan buildings and practices. The suggestion that Dalfino and Mele advance (17) regarding the possibility that this church (and one very similar to it, San Pietro di Crepacore) were what can be called "castrensi" (castrum) or "limitanee" (limes) and built in conjunction with military and strategic interests, is thus quite fascinating (even though, and as mentioned above, this far there are no archaeological proofs that such border or castrum actually existed). In addition, the authors also propose that the circular building--now private dwelling--to the north east of the main body of Santa Maria di Gallana was a baptistery (49) is equally engaging. According to Dalfino and Mele, we might have here a complex structure, an "ecclesia baptismalis" or "plebs," built to fulfil the ever increasing necessities of a borderline community that was constantly developing throughout the Middle Ages. Many, and evident, are the links intertwining the economic, military, devotional, and institutional interests surfacing in the architectonic structures and in their surroundings. Finally, the authors' accurate analysis of the architectonic phases succeeding in the construction of these buildings lets surface another interesting element: a number of architectonic features which are typical expressions of domestic buildings (such as the use of pisuli, or tuff benches, on both sides of the main entrance; or the fact that both domes are partially encapsulated by tiburi, or cones) reveal a strict interdependence between civic and religious architecture; and this mingling of elements reflects perfectly the characteristics of an agricultural/military/devotional nucleus such as Santa Maria di Gallana seems to have been throughout the centuries. This multiplicity of uses, this invaluable adaptability of an architectonic structure, is of course brought full circle by the fact that the actual inhabitants of the masseria are currently living in what once was the left nave and, possibly, the baptistery of this complex.

I found this little book a precious reading and I suggest it to those interested in the still understudied micro-history of southern Italy.