The Church of San Giacomo Apostolo (Saint James the Apostle ) still Risks Closure

By Antonio Piccoli, August 2004

It was 1984 when an earthquake gave a last shake to the already crumbling structures of the right-hand arch of the parochial church. The lesions were fairly serious, so much so that the technicians who came to see it, to establish the condition of the church after the earthquake, declared that the church was unsafe and that there was an absolute need to strengthen the structure and its foundations, otherwise the faithful would no longer be able to go inside. The church of San Giacomo Apostolo is very old, certainly from the 1500’s, although it probably has been repaired several times. Above the main entrance there is the date 1782 but this certainly is only the date of the doorway. Don Francesco Di Pasqua, parish priest at Torricella from 1954 to 1986 carried out some research which mentions the first parish in 1627. The mummy discovered during the church repairs, moreover, seems to be that of a young man in his 20’s who lived in the 1500’s. >

From the structural point of view the church has always had problems due to the fact that the foundations rest on different beds, those facing uphill rest on limestone, whilst those facing downhill lie on clays or rather alluvium. This situation has always led to small slippages especially in the zone over the clays. In fact the consolidation project made provision for underpinning the foundations of the pillars and the side wall that is facing downhill with mini-piles leaning on the limestone. This work, started in 1985 with a project that had been approved by the Superintendent of Monuments of L'Aquila, ended up diverging quite far from the original project, in particular because during excavations to reach the foundations under the right-hand nave, an enormous room was discovered full of bones and the coffin containing the mummy.  This possibility ought to have been foreseen in that during the 1800’s many people were buried inside the church. Also the foundations had suffered far more damage than one would have thought. All this brought about many delays with much overspending of money for the new solutions that had first to be approved and then carried out.

In 1990 they finished the consolidation works but the church was still far from habitable. It still lacked flooring, the walls needed painting, the electricity and heating plants were lacking and everything always first had to be approved by the Beautiful Arts technicians. It needed the love and stubbornness of the then parish priest of Torricella, Don Ignazio Cocco, who with patience and dedication gathered together the funds and finished the works using a volunteer workforce from Torricella - who worked for free. However it was not easy. I remember Christmas 1991 when Don Ignazio made a very civilized protest, he built an altar using leftover planks and bricks from the church’s building site for the midnight mass, reprimanding the politicians and asking them to help the parochial community of Torricella.

Finally in 1995 the church was reopened.

Now, in 2004, only 9 years after it was reopened and 14 since the consolidation work had ended, the church unfortunately has developed some more dangerous lesions. The internal façade, together with the left-hand and central arches has many defects due to infiltration by damp from the roof and at times the arches are very bad. Moreover the façade, in Majella stone, which was taken down, consolidated internally and then replaced in the same order, is now becoming detached from the internal wall.

Don Giuseppe, the current parish priest of Torricella, first noticed these lesions on the 19th March, this year, on Saint Joseph’s feast-day (San Giuseppe). He discussed it both with the technicians and with the Fire Brigade who recommended that he close off the left nave immediately from the faithful, urgently take steps to start reconstruction work and that these should be completed before the new snow falls, for fear of sudden collapse. At least for now, however, a sort of steel bridge needs to be built to counter the push of the left arch. The priest does not know what to do because the time limit is so short, a plan has to be drawn up, this has to be approved by the Superintendent and a firm with the lowest charges has to be chosen to do the work. All that before even thinking that there is no money – yet somehow it will have to be found.

Meanwhile Torricella is at risk of being without any church at all, in fact San Rocco is unusable because of the "eternit" an asbestos covering that is on the roof. There too it has been pronounced unsafe unless the roof is remade and the "eternit" is removed because it is so harmful to people’s health. That only leaves the church of Saint Antony (San Antonio) which, has recently been restructured, but there is a slight problem, shall we say of economics, or rather, there is a debt with the bank, a previous contract, which means that if it is not paid the church cannot be reopened to the faithful.

We shall have to wait and see what happens.

The left nave – One can see lesions caused by dampness

The central nave – One can see various lesions of the pillars and the façade behind them

Detail of the left arch – One can see lesions on the vault, which the firefighters absolutely want repaired

Detail of the entrance – One can see the gap (detachment) between the external wall made of limestone blocks and the inner wall

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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