by Giancarlo Pavat
Alatri is a small town in central Italy, in Lazio, in the province of Frosinone, south of Rome.
Alatri boasts Roman and medieval monuments, including many beautiful churches and palaces from the 11th to the 13th century AD. The church of St. Francis of Assisi dates from the 13th century and its adjoining cloister opens onto the Queen Margherita of Savoia piazza. The church is now used as a hall for exhibitions and cultural events.
During restoration work in 1996, a tunnel was discovered beneath the church, with a number of fresco paintings on its walls, including spirals, circles, plants, flowers and a unique depiction of “Christ in Glory” or “Christ the Judge” at the centre of a large labyrinth. It is situated at he top of the wall.
Almost nothing is currently known about ht origin of this work of art, indeed, it was totally unknown until its casual discovery in 1996. The placement of an image of Christ within a labyrinth is unknown elsewhere, however, the design of the Alatri fresco labyrinth is essentially identical to that on the floor of the nave of Chartres Cathedral in France.
The diameter of the outer circle of the labyrinth is c.140 cm, while that of the inner circle measures 55 cm. At he centre of the labyrinth, a bearded Christ, his head surrounded by a halo inscribed with a cross, wears a dark tunic and golden cloak. In his left hand, on which he wears a ring, he holds a book closed with two buckles and decorated with a heart. The right hand is stretched out in a blessing gesture to the last piece of way where it enters the centre.
The wall painted with the “Christ in the Labyrinth” fresco faces south, so the entrance to the labyrinth lies to the west (to the left of the design) and the final path leads to the east. Therefore, the labyrinth is orientated like the vast majority of Christian churches: you enter from where the sun sets and you continue in the direction in which it rises, towards the light.
According to Professor Graziella Frezza from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of the Italian Republic, the Alatri frescos can be dated between the 11th and the 14th centuries and, currently, the Knights Templar are considered the likely authors or purchasers of the fresco of “Christ in the Labyrinth”.
Currently the frescos at Alatri are in poor condition, but because of their importance, the Government of the Italian Republichas allocated money for their restoration.
Photos courtesy of Giancarlo Pavat
Photos © Giancarlo Pavat
Source: Caerdroia 40 (2010), editet by Jeff Saward