The Oratory of San Pellegrino is part of a monastic complex which in the 10th century was owned by the religious order of the Benedictines and which also includes the church of Santa Maria Assunta. The oratory is located in the hamlet of Bominaco in the municipality of Caporciano, in the province of L'Aquila.Its construction, which dates back to 1263, as evidenced by an inscription on the back wall of the structure, it was at the behest of the abbot Teodino on the place where an older building was located, commissioned by "King Carlo", perhaps Charlemagne or Carlo il Bald.
The oratory, dedicated to San Pellegrino, a very revered martyr in the area, is a small room with a single nave without an apse, 18.70 meters long by 5.60 meters wide. It is surmounted by an ogival barrel vault and the walls are entirely decorated with frescoes made at the same time as it was built. Outside it has a main facade with a seventeenth-century pronaos, at the rear there is a further entrance that was once reserved for monks, a third entrance is located on the side wall. On the body of the building there are six loopholes and two rose windows, one on each facade. A bell gable surmounts the rear facade.
The interior spaces of the oratory are divided in two by two plutei decorated with a dragon and a griffin, which were used to separate the spaces dedicated to the faithful from those reserved for catechumens. The interior is entirely covered with an extraordinary cycle of frescoes, considered the most important testimony of medieval Abruzzo painting. The decoration, on three superimposed registers, takes place above a base painted in curtain, the frescoes also cover the whole vault which has in the center a band painted with geometric and stylized ornamental motifs.
The cycles are intertwined with each other in a complex way: some scenes belonging to the same iconographic group occupy spaces on opposite walls, then stop on one wall to continue on the opposite one.
They depict stories from the childhood of Christ, scenes from the Passion, scenes from the Last Judgment, stories from San Pellegrino and other saints, and a series of scenes from the months of the Calendar.
There are six stories dedicated to San Pellegrino, while the cycle of Christ's childhood includes the episodes of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity and the massacre of the innocents. The cycle of the Passion includes the episodes of the entry into Jerusalem, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas, the arrest, the trial, the Deposition from the cross, the burial and the apparition at Emmaus, from note that the Crucifixion scene is missing. The universal judgment is divided into the scenes of the Weighing of souls, St. Peter opening the gates of heaven, the patriarchs with the souls of the blessed, the damned tortured by demons. Of the Calendar series, only the first six months are legible, represented by the zodiac signs, the activities of man and the festivities of the diocese of Valva, to which the oratory belonged.
The cycle of frescoes is stylistically attributed to three distinct authors with different personalities even if on the whole there is a certain uniformity of language that is characterized by Gothic naturalism on which Benedictine and Byzantine references are grafted whose personal reinterpretation makes the cycle of frescoes by Bominaco a precious testimony, anticipating the thirteenth-century pictorial season, before Giotto's painting, which with the introduction of three-dimensionality will forever change Italian and European art.
In the cycle of the Infancy of Christ we recognize the Byzantine iconographic tradition of the scenes, in particular from the oriental miniature, on which elements typical of the local culture are grafted. In many scenes, however, there is a tendency to overcome the oriental fixity to lead to a whole new dynamism. In the scene of the Adoration of the Magi one can glimpse iconographic elements of probable French origin.
The Master of the Passion cycle paints scenes that are oriented towards narrative effects inspired by everyday life and indicate a particular predisposition for the observation of reality. The characters are characterized by very expressive gestures and postures that denote the painter's independence from rigid Byzantine schemes.
The extraordinary cycle of the Calendar, unlike the others, presents original and innovative characters that anticipate the great Gothic painting of the monumental cycles of the months that spread both in northern Italy and in France for example in the cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, in the Cathedral by Amiens. As already mentioned, only the first six months of the calendar are clearly visible: January is represented by a man drinking from a flask, February by a man cutting the branches of a tree, March by a sleeping man, April by a man who he holds two flowers in his hand, May from a man on horseback and June from a man who picks fruit. Each figure representing the months is inserted in trefoil arches, each figure has a certain dynamism that suggests a derivation from French illuminated examples, of a typically Gothic taste.
The Oratory of San Pellegrino in Bominaco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Information: Municipality of Caporciano tel. 0862 93731; fax 0862 93475. To visit the oratory it is necessary to contact the caretaker who lives nearby.