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Masserano (Biella)- Church of St. Theonestus

Foto Church of St. Theonestus -  of historical value  of artistic value
Foto Church of St. Theonestus -  of historical value  of artistic value
Foto Church of St. Theonestus -  of historical value  of artistic value
Foto Church of St. Theonestus -  of historical value  of artistic value
Foto Church of St. Theonestus -  of historical value  of artistic value
Show to visit in the Biella area:
Places  of historical value  of artistic value in the Biella area: Church of St. TheonestusThe Church of St. Theonestus is a church of ancient origins located on a hill near the oldest inhabited center of Masserano, just outside the lower part of the town. It is characterized by the superimposition of Franciscan decorations from the Baroque era on a medieval structure.

The first version of the church was built around 900 near the point where one of the access gates to the town stood, a gate also dedicated to St. Theonestus. However, no further details are known.
The church became a parish church following a bull of Urban VIII in 1186 (it remained a parish church until 1507, then replaced by the new Church of the Collegiate of the Annunziata, not yet present on this site) and a pleban church in 1298.
The importance of the building is demonstrated by the fact that when in 1243 Masserano came under the domination of the Municipality of Vercelli, the deed certifying the passage was stipulated under its portico.
The original church was probably a basilica-shaped building with a single nave, a semicircular apse and a portico on the facade.
At the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the church was enlarged, with the addition of the sacristy to the left of the presbytery, two first side chapels and the bell tower, to the right of the sacristy.
When the title of parish passed to the Collegiate of the Annunziata, many assets and proceeds from St. Theonestus were transferred to the new church.
Subsequently, the feudal lords of Masserano had the Franciscan convent built next to the church of St. Theonestus. The convent was built between 1590 and 1592, the year in which also the church passed to the Franciscan Friars. In the first half of the seventeenth century the building was equipped with a brick vault and the oculus above the main door was moved lower. Furthermore, a new sacristy was built on the right, directly connected to the convent. The old sacristy was completely renovated and transformed into a shrine of the Madonna of St. Theonestus, now Salus Infirmorum.
Between 1600 and 1700 two other chapels were built near the facade and the interior furnishings were renewed, with the complete fresco decoration of the Shrine of the Madonna.
In 1802 the also the statue of the Madonna of St. Theonestus was transferred to the Collegiate Church, the year in which the church and convent were closed by the French. All the church furnishings, and also the church itself and the convent, were sold at auction. The church remained deconsecrated and closed to worship from 1805 to 1823, reduced to a rural storage room. In 1823 it was reconsecrated and returned to worship. In 1825, the Municipality purchased the convent and the church to house the schools and the college: it renovated the buildings and two coats of lime were applied to all the Franciscan paintings that decorated the church.
In the second half of the 1900s the church was closed again.
In 1978 the bell tower, the oldest part of the church, was restored, unfortunately in a very rough manner, with plastering that hid its wall structure. In 2022 the facade was restored, but many other interventions would be necessary to bring the church back to its deserved splendor.

The church is located in the center of a raised area delimited by walls and can be reached via a cobbled ramp that bisects the small lawn area in front of it.
Curiously, the church has a rectangular shape with the width greater than the length.
The only part of the church visible from the outside is practically the facade, given that its right and rear sides are hidden by what was once the convent and the left one is visible only with difficulty given that on that side the church it is located very high up from the road.
The façade, plastered, is gabled, divided into three parts by four pilasters: two more slender and pointed ones which reach from the ground almost to the roof and which reflect the internal division into three naves and two more massive on the sides.
A thin horizontal terracotta frame runs about 2 meters from the ground. Other slender terracotta frames are present around the entrance door, its lunette and immediately under the roof.
There are three openings: two lateral rectangular windows and a central oculus at the top.
Between the door and the oculus there are still traces of a fresco depicting Saint Francis embracing the symbols of the Passion.
Most of the other external surfaces are not plastered and the walls, in brick and stone, are exposed.
The bell tower is from the Romanesque period and is assumed to date back to the twelfth century. It is divided into floors with double or triple lancet windows on each side and with a frame of hanging arches at the transition from one floor to the other and under the roof attachment. The structure of the masonry, now visible only from the inside, is rough and includes a part in bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern and one in stones and river pebbles.
The interior of the church has three naves, with all the internal surfaces plastered, although in need of restoration. The central nave is larger than the side ones. Each nave includes only two spans with a cross vault and, as mentioned, the church is therefore wider than long. The side naves are separated from the central one by a pair of large pillars with a rectangular section. On the left one there is a wooden pulpit, unfortunately without a ladder to climb up to it.
The interior is quite bright because in addition to the three openings on the facade there are two rectangular windows in two chapels and a cardiod window in the rear wall of the presbytery.
The central part of the counter-façade is occupied by a wooden choir loft. at the base of the lateral parts of the counterfaçade there are two wooden confessionals built in the same style. Curiously, the ladder, also made of wood, which is used to reach the choir loft has a landing placed above the right confessional.
In the presbytery today only the decorated stucco altar remains.
There are four side chapels plus two small chapels on the sides of the entrance to the presbytery and the chapel left to the presbytery.
Starting from the entrance, on the left you have:
Chapel of St. Peter from Alcantara: The chapel, dedicated to one of the Franciscan saints, is entirely decorated with frescoes and stuccoes from the Baroque era. The back wall is decorated with a sumptuous trompe l'oeil retable with a (real) niche protected by glass in the center and with a simulated apse behind it. On the barrel vault there is a fresco with a glory of the saint.
The altar is in stucco.
Chapel of St. Bonaventura: Also this chapel is dedicated to a Franciscan saint. It features a stucco altar with a sumptuous stucco retable above it with an architectural structure that frames a large niche. Above the pediment are two angels holding a pen in their hands. On the sides of the retable there are rectangular and polygonal stucco frames which contained frescoes which have unfortunately been almost completely lost.
Chapel at the head of the left side nave: It is basically a large niche placed between two fluted pilasters which support an entablature with rich painted stucco decorations. In the center of the entablature, two putti hold the coat of arms of the Ferrero Fieschi family.
Bouquets of colorful flowers are painted on the vault of the niche in strong chromatic contrast with the light blue of the rest of the chapel.
Inside the niche there is then a second smaller niche.
Originally the chapel probably housed a statue of St. Dominic.
Starting from the entrance, on the right you have:
Chapel of St. Anthony from Padua: It is richly decorated with stuccos, but unfortunately it is also very ruined. As evidenced by the inscription above the entrance arch, the current structure of the chapel dates back to 1650 and corresponds to an ex-voto for a grace received. The retable has an exquisitely architectural structure, with a large niche in the center surrounded by a stucco frame with vegetal-themed decorative elements and two putti at the top. This niche is flanked on each side by a column and a caryatid. Columns and caryatids support an entablature in the center of which the coat of arms of the Ferrero Fieschi family is placed. The retable is completed at the top by a double broken pediment on which two female figures are placed which are not easily interpretable and in the center of which a rectangular window opens. Also the barrel vault and the side walls, as well as the entrance arch, are richly decorated with frames, purely decorative elements, putti and angels in stucco.
Chapel of St. Diego: It is the least rich, with totally bare walls, except for some remains of frescoes. The altar and the altarpiece are in stucco. The second has an architectural structure also in this case, with a niche in the center equipped with a stucco frame and flanked on each side by a pair of pilasters staggered in depth and equipped with Corinthian capitals. They support an entablature decorated with floral elements and cherub heads. At the top there is a broken pediment with a frame in the centre, the contents of which however are no longer recognisable. At the top of the back wall there is an oculus, which however appears closed from the outside.
Chapel at the head of the right side nave: It has the same structure as its counterpart on the other side of the entrance to the presbytery. In this case, however, the large niche is decorated with stucco frames with still clearly legible depictions of episodes from the life of Saint Francis. Originally the chapel housed a statue of the Saint. The other difference is represented by the fact that at the base of the altar there is a niche with a Christ placed inside in painted plaster stuffed with straw and unfortunately in a poor state of conservation.
Salus Infirmorum Chapel: It is located to the left of the presbytery and was obtained from the old sacristy in the mid-seventeenth century.
It is characterized by the fact that all the internal surfaces are decorated with trompe l'oeil quadratures depicting ruins, frames, altars and various decorations which include episodes from the life of the Madonna. In particular, on the right wall you can admire a simulated retable with a Nativity of the Virgin as altarpiece, while on the vault, beyond a fake dome, the Coronation of Mary is represented.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Via del Collegio, 21, 13866 Masserano BI
Church of St. Theonestus: Further pictures in the section Photography
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Left half of the interior of the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Right half of the interior of the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Chapel of St. Francis in the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Confessional and access staircase to the choir loft in the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Right wall of the Salus Infirmorum Chapel in the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Retable of the altar of Sant'Anthony of Padua in the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): Chapel of St. Peter from Alcantara in the Church of St. Theonestus
Masserano (Biella, Italy): View of the right aisle of the Church of St. Theonestus