The entire architectural complex, enclosed by a boundary wall with iron railings, includes the Cathedral Basilica of San Pelino and a building located to its right with a rectangular apse and an adjoining tower. This is currently identified as the Oratory of Sant’Alessandro but according to others it would have been an ancient mausoleum. On the opposite side, in line with the presbytery, is the former Bishop's Palace and seminary which is now a cloistered monastery. Inside the fence, archaeological and architectural fragments of buildings from ancient Corfinium, and some medieval sarcophagi and decorative elements that belonged to the successive Baroque reconstructions, are visible.
Historical NotesLocated on the outskirts of the town of Corfinio, along the ancient Via Valeria, the cathedral of San Pelino, with the adjacent oratory of Sant’Alessandro, is one of the most important Romanesque monuments of Abruzzo. The whole complex also includes the Bishop’s residence which is currently used as a cloistered nunnery of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
The church is also known as the Basilica of Valva which, together with its companion Cathedral of San Panfilo in Sulmona, comprises the ancient diocese of Valva.
Information about its origins are rather confused and are mixed with local traditions, according to which the first church was built on a kind of early Christian cemetery at the place where, around the middle of the 4th century during the persecutions of the Emperor Giuliano l’Apostata, San Pelino was martyred. Again, according to legend, it was later severely damaged by the incursions of both the Saracens and Hungarians. The earliest records date back, however, to the 9th century as we can see from an epigraphic fragment found in the oratory of Sant’Alessandro. This is the oldest part of the complex and was either built, or according to some at least restored, by Bishop Trasmondo between 1075 and 1102. The construction work continued with Trasmondo’s successors until the church was consecrated by Bishop Walter in 1124 and the remains of the saint were laid to rest here. In 1229 the basilica was sacked and burned by the Sulmonesi, in the fight against the bishop, and during that same century it was restored several times.
In addition, the earthquakes that devastated the Peligna area caused collapses and subsequent restorations of the building, and changed the original appearance of the structures. In the 17th century, finally, the interior of the cathedral was completely redesigned according to the new Baroque style, obliterating the original appearance and the medieval charm with the addition of stucco decorations, the construction of a lantern and a canopy above the altar and the displacement of the old stone pulpit from its original site to its current location.
In 1971 the Medieval forms of the old Cathedral were restored with a brave and complex restoration operation. The Baroque ornamentation was removed and the wooden trusses of the ceiling were restored. Further restoration work was carried out by the Superintendence between 2007 and 2009, when the early Christian tombs beneath the floor of the Oratory were cleaned and reorganised, together with those found during the excavations.
ExteriorThe main front of the Basilica faces the Via Valeria. The right-hand side connects to the oldest part which is the chapel of Sant’Alessandro and the left-hand side connects, at the height of the chancel, with the bishop's palace, which was completed at the end of the 13th century. The exterior is the best preserved part of the old structure and is perfectly recognisable in all its original parts, except for the opening of new windows and the addition of the chapel of SS. Sacramento.
The stone façade has however been much altered. The horizontal section at the very top is a later addition to the original pitched roof which is clearly visible. The lower span is divided into three by projecting pilasters with classically inspired capitals. It has two blind, side arches, perhaps belonging to an ancient porch, which was never completed. At the centre is the portal, of a style typical of the Campania region, with a rectangular opening framed by jambs decorated with embossed, spiral patterns. The lintel has a rounded arch with a decorative leaf pattern however the bezel is devoid of any decoration.
The piers feature elaborate, decorative patterns that reproduce some classical fragments from the Roman era and which are still set into the front wall of the oratory. They include typically medieval, rampant, angular lions and in the higher span you can see some bas-reliefs depicting, amongst other things, a griffin, a lion and a bird.
The outer walls of the complex are divided by projecting pilasters crowned by capitals, at the same height of which is a frame with hanging arches which rests on ledges with friezes depicting elements that are both phytomorphic and zoomorphic.
Of note is the central apse at the rear of the building together with the smaller side apse. Its wide and multi-faceted curved surface is divided into four orders. The lower order has a base with a frame and a smooth wall surface. The second is marked by columns framing three mullioned windows with pointed arches. Above it runs a band which separates the second and third orders with nine ornate rectangular panels inscribed with diamonds and decorated with floral elements. Above the parapets, in the third sector, is a blind loggia with semi-circular arches resting on the busts of lions and bulls, whose lunettes are adorned with zoomorphic bas-reliefs. The last order repeats the ornamental motif of the frame with blind arches.
Interior The church has a longitudinal floor plan and is divided into three aisles by 14 columns with rounded arches and a short transept apse on each of the two wings. The apse of the left side is no longer visible as it has been amended by later additions.
On the wall of the rear facade, over the portal, are fragments of a fresco that decorated the lunette, dating back to the 13th century, with the Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saint Pelino offering the model of the church. Lower down is the much smaller representation of the client who commissioned the work. The painted archivolt frame, which has been greatly damaged, is composed of a series of quadrilobes with busts of saints. On the left aisle is a fresco from the early 15th century depicting the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist, and a painting from the 17th - 18th century with San Pelino and St. Alexander the Pope which was only recently placed here. The lunette in the apse on the left features a Madonna Enthroned with the Child, a valuable sculpture from the 12th century in the Byzantine style, whose original location is uncertain.
In the former sacristy, today a chapel of the cloistered nuns, the relics of San Pelino and St. Alexander the Pope (2nd century AD) are kept together with his wooden bust and, on the wall, a painting of Christ on the Cross painted in 1897 by local artist Theophilus Patini.
In the central apse is a wooden choir from the first half of the 18th century, created by the renowned cabinetmaker Ferdinando Mosca of Pescocostanzo. In the right apse are traces of a fresco from the 13th century. The oldest painting found in the cathedral, which once formed part of a broader, articulated wall painting, is the image of a Franciscan saint, placed beside a crucifix with cherub wings, as was typical of the iconography of the order. The figure on the right is probably St. Francis himself, of which only the hand with the stigmata remains.
Leaning against the fifth pillar on the right is the splendid stone pulpit which, despite interventions from the 17th century which changed its location from the presbytery to the aisle, and its partially modified proportions, is the scultural masterpiece of the Cathedral. In its front part there is an inscription that refers to the donor, one Idolerico, and the date of its construction which took place at the time of Bishop Odorisio (1168-1188). It has been attributed to the school of Casauria for its obvious stylistic and morphological similarities with that of the nearby Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria. It has a square structure with four smooth columns with composite capitals supporting the raised quadrilateral base and semicircular parapet. All parts of the composition including the panels of the balustrade and the frames are richly carved in relief.
The right-hand aisle leads to the Oratory of Sant’Alessandrot which was founded - according to the most accredited opinions - at the end of the 9th century by the Bishop Trasmondo, and probably remodelled from an earlier church erected soon after the death of San Pelino. The work was interrupted, however, between 1077 and 1078 to start the construction of the church, while the oratory was used to house the remains of Saint Alexander the Pope, which were later transferred. Although the exact date of the foundation is unknown, one can in all probability say that its consecration took place between 1096 and 1102.