Sant’Agata dei Goti

In the evocative medieval atmosphere

Location

Sant’Agata de’ Goti stands on the edge of the picturesque valley of the Isclero river, which springs from the Taburno massif and after passing through the Moiano narrows flows into the Volturno.

The historic center overlooks a tuffaceous cliff surrounded by the Martorano and Riello streams, from which it dominates what was once one of the main access routes to the Samnite region. Sant’ Agata dei Goti, a crib village in which the bell towers and majolica domes dominate the rampart of houses and buildings lined up on a shelf arranged on a cliff about 50 meters high. Splendid on all sides, Sant’ Agata dei Goti offers the most striking view from the very high Vittorio Emanuele Bridge. Crossing the bridge you will immediately feel the medieval atmosphere created by the maze of narrow streets that open to the horizons of Sannio, in front of the imposing remains of the Castle.



Not to be missed

The breathtaking beauty of the historic center and landscape of the village, which has earned it the nickname “Pearl of Sannio,” has been part of the “Most Beautiful Villages of Italy” circuit since November 2012.

Splendid from all sides, Sant’Agata de’ Goti offers the most striking view from the very high Vittorio Emanuele bridge that crosses the Martorano valley from the west, and from which you can admire the system of building arches that holds the village perched on the edge of the tuff cliff. Crossing the bridge, you are immediately confronted with the imposing remains of the castle, founded by the Lombards and gradually renovated several times between the Norman era and the 18th century: of note are the ogival arches in the courtyard, 17th-century mythological scenes in the loggia on the second floor and a fresco by Tommaso Giaquinto (“Diana and Actaeon,” 1710).

Opposite the castle, on the bridge side, you can see the church of San Menna, built close to the city walls and consecrated in 1110 by Pope Paschal II: dedicated to a hermit who lived in a cave on Mount Taburno in the 6th century, it preserves the original Romanesque portal, decorated with leaves and two lion heads. The three-aisled interior, with columns and Romanesque capitals and a truss roof, has in the floor of the apse the remarkable remains of an early-12th-century geometric-figure mosaic, one of the oldest datable with certainty in southern Italy. Also of note on the walls are the remains of frescoes from the 14th-15th centuries and, in the altar, a sarcophagus slab from the 7th century.

Not far away, heading toward the southern end of the town, is instead the most important church of St. Agatha: that of the Annunziata. Founded in 1237 and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1349, it has a 16th-century portal and a bell tower, while the interior is Gothic and houses exceptional cycles of frescoes discovered only a few decades ago, hidden behind a coat of plaster: dating from the late 14th and early 15th centuries, they are among the most important achievements of late Gothic painting in Campania.

Extraordinary, for example, turning back as soon as you enter the church, is the Last Judgment frescoed on the counter-façade, with Christ the Judge, the resurrection of the dead emerging from the tombs, angels blowing their trumpets, and representations of hell and heaven.

But the Church of the Annunziata holds more than just frescoes. In the first chapel on the left there is a large, gilded polyptych of the Annunciation (c. 1483), of clear Flemish inspiration, painted perhaps by Angiolillo Arcuccio, who depicted the Trinitarian conception icastically, with the Father sending the Holy Spirit so that the Son might take flesh in Mary’s womb. In the second chapel on the right, the marble altar with a statue of St. James is remarkable. And then, integrating well with the mystical atmosphere of the church, you can see 16 modern, vertical, colorful stained glass windows made in 1976 from drawings by a great contemporary artist, Bruno Cassinari.

Heading north,you can explore the historic center, which was hard hit by the 1980 earthquake and is crisscrossed by a main street, on either side of which branch off narrow streets that often widen into a small square with a church. Following Via Roma, on the left is Piazza Ludovico Viscardi with the small church of Sant’Angelo de Munculanis, of Lombard origin, with a bell tower opened by two Romanesque double lancet windows: recent restoration work has brought to light the medieval structure and a crypt.

Another church not to be missed is that of St. Francis, dating from 1267 but baroqued in the 1700s: especially notable at the entrance wall is the funeral monument of Ludovico d’Artus, count of Sant’Agata, who died in 1370: the work of a Neapolitan sculptor, it consists of a sarcophagus on eight twin twisted columns, with a Gothic-style canopy supported in turn by two twisted columns. Also worth seeing are the majolica floor by the Massa brothers, the gilded coffered ceiling with a cycle of frescoes by Tommaso Giaquinto depicting scenes from the Old Testament, a 1702 Annunciation also by Giaquinto, a 15th-century fresco of the Madonna of Milk, and the pipe organ.

Continuing on, we then come to the 18th-century church of St. Mary of Constantinople, which has 16th-century origins but whose history is closely linked to the adjacent monastery of the Redemptorist nuns, who were brought to the village by St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori in 1766 (it is still inhabited by cloistered nuns). Just across the street is the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, which houses one of the two sections of the Diocesan Museum.

Past the Town Hall, an integral part of an old Franciscan convent complex, with an 18th-century portal and a Roman epigraph on the corner, Piazza Umberto I is on the right, with the Bishop’s Palace, where everything speaks of St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori.

Further on, however, stands the cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption, with a portico supported by twelve columns with Corinthian capitals. Founded in 970 on a pagan temple, it has undergone numerous renovations, the most important of which in the first half of the 18th century when numerous artists and craftsmen who came from Naples gave it its present appearance (only the ceiling is from 1878). The interior, with a Latin cross plan and three naves, preserves numerous works of art from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as remains of a mosaic floor similar to those at San Menna. Of notable importance is the crypt with cross vaults, evidence of the 12th-century Romanesque church, which has 14th-century frescoes on its walls and is supported by 12 columns, six of which have late antique, three medieval and three Romanesque capitals, on which bas-reliefs depicting angels and monstrous animals can be glimpsed.

The route ends at the far end of the village at Villa Torricella, a public garden that overlooks the junction of the two deep ravines bordering the northern side of the town, on the edge of the valley cut by the Riello stream. It is precisely via Riello that leads, on the eastern side of the town, to the only gate in the town wall, with fine views of the surrounding mountains and remains of the wall towers. Also of note, three kilometers west of the village, is the simple shrine of Santa Maria in Palmentata, erected where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a shepherd on Palm Sunday, asking him that a chapel be built in her honor. The object of worship is a 15th-century statue of the Madonna Enthroned with Child. Most notable is the Diocesan Museum, which was opened in 1996 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and contains many works of art from churches in the area that were damaged in the 1980 earthquake. It is divided into two distinct sections. The museum proper is located in the small square of the Madonna del Carmine: it houses works of sacred art, vestments, reliquaries, silverware, manuscripts and liturgical texts, as well as ancient tomb slabs (an early Christian one from the 5th century and one of Abbot Antonio di Tramonto from 1361), a late Gothic “Pietà” attributed to Silvestro Buono, 17th-century frescoes detached from the seminary walls, an “Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael” (1680) and an “Annunciation” (1702) by Giaquinto. The section of the museum housed in the bishop’s palace, on the other hand, is mainly dedicated to St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, but it also preserves the coats of arms of the 68 bishops of Santagata, the reliquary of St. Onofrio (1585), liturgical objects from the 18th and 19th centuries, and a recent Neapolitan nativity scene by Giuseppe and Marco Ferrigno (1997).

A bit of history

In the present territory of Sant’Agata dei Goti, the Samnite city of Saticula once stood. The origin of the name is formed in different historical periods. During the seventh century, the Lombard town was named after the Catanese saint, at the behest of Radoaldo and Grimoaldo, brothers educated at the court of Arechi I of Benevento, who contributed to the foundation of the church of San’ Agata de Amarenis, also known as “Sant’ Agatella.” The second part of the name was added in Norman times, with the advent of the feudal lords of the Drengot family, after 1117. Rainulfo Dengrot, count of Saint Agatha, gave his name to the fortress. But over time the surname “Dengrot,” both in France and Italy began to be pronounced differently. Thus mutating into “De-Goth.”

Following the Lombard domination, a long series of power transitions began. The village also passed through the hands of the most important feudal families of Naples, most recently the Carafa family.

It became an episcopal seat as early as the 10th century and in its history boasts the leadership of Bishop Felice Peretti, who later ascended to the papal throne under the name of Sixtus V, and St. Alphonsus de’ Liguori.

This period also coincides with Norman rule, during which the defensive structure was expanded with the construction of a fortress and the cathedral and other sacred buildings were commissioned.

The charm of the village perched on the rock and its thousand-year history are just some of the elements that make Sant’Agata dei Goti one of the centers of evocative beauty, able to amaze an increasing number of visitors, who choose it as their half of the trip.

Curiosity

Bishop Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori, who ruled the diocese from 1762 to 1775 with a dedication that contributed to his beatification, was the author of a Christmas carol, “Quanno nascette Ninno” (When the Child was Born), peculiar starting with the fact that it has lyrics in dialect: Quanno nascette Ninno a Bettlemme / Era nott’e pareva miezo juorno…; the Italian version is known as “Tu scendi dalle stelle” (You Come Down from the Stars)…

Sant’Agata dei Goti is home to local events such as: the Corpus Christi flower festival in June, where every year the squares of the historic center host flower displays and altars in honor of the procession in which visitors can also participate. The multicultural festival “sounds of the earth,” held annually between the last week of August and early September, features seven days of stages, ethno-musical videos, performances and concerts that enliven the cobblestone streets of the medieval village. At the same time as the Night of St. Lawrence, it will be possible to taste and sample local dishes. The protagonist and the extra virgin olive oil of Sant’ Agata, from the Caudine lands in the Sannio region, where the olive tradition is among the oldest in Italy, accompanied by stand representations, animations and shows and walks to the spectacular archaeological sites. The Annurca apple festival presents a tasty sampling of products made from annurca apples, such as cakes, tarts, pasta dishes and liqueurs, but above all, the annurca apple baba is not to be missed. The ancient fair of St. Martin, takes place every year on November 11, in honor of the patron saint St. Martin of Tours. The event features a large market with various goods traditional to the locality.   

A day in Sant’Agata De’ Goti

Tour in the historical centre