Churches to Explore in Viterbo
By Kyra Bowar USAC Student
From Romanesque to Baroque to Gothic churches, the walls of Viterbo hold a diverse range of architectural beauties. To help you narrow down the long list, here are some interesting churches to visit in Viterbo:
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (Viterbo Cathedral) – Piazza San Lorenzo
This Romanesque structure is one of the most popular sites with the walls of Viterbo, primarily because of its conjunction with the Palazzo dei Papi (Papal Palace). According to legend, the cathedral was built on the site of an Etruscan temple to Hercules, and Etruscan and Roman foundations can still be found in the Piazza di San Lorenzo. The original structure of the cathedral dates back to the 12th century, but much of what is visible in the facade today was reconstructed in the 16th century. While the interior of the cathedral is home to some magnificent frescos and 18th-century paintings, be sure to admire the towering structure from the outside. Its ornate doors alone are worth a second look.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Nuova – Piazza Santa Maria Nuova
While its plain facade doesn’t look like much, this little church holds a lot of secrets. Originally built in 1050, Santa Maria Nuova is the oldest parish in the city. In 1266, St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have preached from the modest stone pulpit, suspended against the outside wall. Inside the church, you can find even more gorgeous surprises. The alcoves are home to original frescos by native Viterbese artists, dating from as early as 1293. Located in the heart of the medieval, San Pellegrino district, Santa Maria Nuova is an easily accessible, moderately unknown, and a must-see church on your trip to Viterbo.
Church of Santa Rosa – Via Santa Rosa
While the structure of the Church of Santa Rosa itself is fairly new in relation to the other churches on this list, it’s what’s inside that draws visitors from all over the world. A gorgeous, intricate, golden urn holds the incorrupt (or mummified) body of St. Rose of Viterbo. Stand under the stars, painted on the ceiling of St. Rose’s beautiful resting place. The church itself has an undeniably meditative atmosphere. Adjacent to the sanctuary, visitors can find the Monastery of St. Rose and explore some of its beautiful architecture and interesting artifacts from her life. (If you’re interested in St. Rose, be sure to check out the Casa di Santa Rosa, her childhood home, located just down the street from the church.)
Chiesa di Santa Giacinta Marescotti – Via del Cimitero
This tiny church is a hidden gem. Found just off the busy Piazza del Morte, get away from the bustle and enjoy the quaint Church of Santa Giacinta Marescotti. Part of the San Bernardino di Siena convent, this small sanctuary is the final resting place of another Viterbese saint: Saint Giacinta Marescotti. Enjoy the quiet atmosphere and the gorgeous stained-glass windows and pay your respects to this santa donna.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Gonfalone) – Via Cardinal La Fontaine
This Baroque-style church is considered the best preserved structure of its time in Viterbo. Can’t make it to the Sistine Chapel? The Church of San Giovanni Battista’s ceiling will certainly astonish you. As you walk from one end of the sanctuary to the other, be sure to look up. The ceiling will move and shift as you go! Don’t forget to check out both sides of the magnificently painted banner of the city, located toward the rear of the altar.