At the centre of the small and very ancient village of Massaquano, in Vico Equense, an authentic pearl of the late Giotto period is hidden between the buildings and a small dark underpass.
We refer to the ancient Chapel of Saint Lucia, built-in 1385 by Don Bartolomeo de Cioffo, a great devoted to the saint of Syracuse.
Thanks to the deep sense of devotion of this priest, still today we can admire the interior of the small and welcoming building with our entranced eyes.
Yet, not many people know that the wonderful frescoes experienced a long dark period.
Around the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a clumsy act of the chapel modernization – they painted the whole interior with a compost made of lime and glue – buried the pictorial decorations of the church.
Certainly, the paintings must have already been frails at the time, but this naïve act contributed to aggravate their conditions.
However, the accidental discovery of a portion of the fresco (around the 1980s of the last century) convinced the then priest of Massaquano to investigate in depth.
So, after a long restoration, the frescoes of Saint Lucia were returned to the community!
The fourteenth-century chapel is entirely decorated with splendid medieval frescoes (14th century) but there is also a room, preceded by an atrium and provided with a small sacristy, in Gothic style.
The whole painting on the front wall shows the cycle of the death and Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, as told in the Apocryphal Gospels.
Surrounded by a blaze of angels, saints and disciples, the figure of the Virgin lying on the bed of death dominates the centre of the majestic fresco.
Christ – depicted in white robes and enclosed in the typical “divine aura” – holds in his arms the soul of Mary (small, with the shape of a child) ready to return it to the mortal body of the mother to lead it to the glory of Paradise and crown her “Queen” of the world.
Below, next to the catafalque of the Virgin, a particular story is narrated: the Archangel Michael with his unsheathed sword cuts the hands of the Jew Jephonia, found guilty of having tried, in a sacrilegious act, to overturn the pallet.
In the lower part of the painting, on both sides of the altar, you can see the figures of Saint Caterina from Alessandria and Saint Lucia.
On left, there’s Saint Caterina shown with the Gospel and the gear wheel, symbol of his martyrdom. On the right, Santa Lucia is depicted in white robes, with the Gospel and the lit oil lamp, symbol of wisdom (which also refers to its name).
The right side wall offers a cycle of eight frescoes, mostly incomplete, which narrates the Passion of Christ.
From the top to the left, there is the Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, following the Last Supper. We continue “reading the paintings” from left to right: the washing of the feet and, at the centre, the scene of prayer in the garden of olive trees. Follows the capture of Jesus with Peter cutting the ear of the servant of the High Priest, Malchus.
In the last register at the bottom, reading from right to left, the last moments of Jesus’ life are illustrated: the condemnation, the climb to Calvary and death on the cross.
On the left sidewall, however, the cycle of life of Saint Lucia is shown. Only four identifiable scenes have come to us.
Starting from the left, the first panel is dedicated to Lucia’s mother, suffering from incurable bleeding. Tradition says that Eutichia, Lucia’s mother, was healed through the intercession of Saint Agatha following Lucia’s pilgrimage to the saint’s tomb.
The story continues with the apparition of Saint Agatha to Lucia and the prediction of her martyrdom. The pictorial cycle continues with the arrest of Lucia, her death sentence (the whole scene remains but strongly faded), and the martyrdom. Only a portion depicting an angel bearing the soul of the Saint in the hands of God.
The workers are unfortunately unknown and, perhaps, they will never be discovered. However, the connections and commercial exchanges with Naples suggest that together with his collaborators, the artist was a profound connoisseur of the stylistic features of Roberto D’Oderisio, the greatest exponent of Neapolitan fourteenth-century painting.
If you find yourself in the Sorrento Peninsula, it is worth not to miss this place!
Saint Lucia Chapel is in Massaquanto, a village of Vico Equense.
From Vico Equense you can take the Circolare (Vico – Moiano crossing S.M. Castello – Vico) and stop at Via R.Bosco Pza S.Giov Massa, in S. Giovanni Square.