Benevento – Church of Santa Sofia, 8th century AD
The church of Santa Sofia constitutes a singular example of Lombard period architecture, being one of the most complex and best preserved buildings known. It was constructed in about 760 as a personal chapel and national sanctuary of the Lombard people by Arechis II – after his election as Duke of Benevento – for his soul’s redemption and the salvation of his people.
Dedicated to Sacred Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the church is centrally planned, with a most interesting architectural composition: a singular structure, half star-shaped and half circular, stands between the entrance area and the three apses facing it. The columns feature re-used Roman capitals, turned upside-down and employed also as bases.
The two side apses conserve the most important components of a group of paintings portraying episodes of Christ’s life that once covered all of the church’s interior, the finest surviving examples of Beneventan Painting, an artistic movement that paralleled Beneventan Script, the national script of the South Italian Lombards, that was also used in monasteries for the transcription of Classical texts.
A women’s monastery was built next to the church, with a rectangular cloister that features numerous re-used items from the original Lombard construction; its Classical and Late Antique features were reworked in the medieval period.
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