Renaissance, Carinola

Church of the Annunziata, Carinola (partial view of the façade and tower)

Church of the Annunziata, Carinola (partial view of the façade and tower)


We went to Carinola after I read in a guidebook that there were some charming fifteenth-century houses and a Romanesque cathedral there. To be honest, I was more interested in the cathedral, despite my training in fifteenth-century art; I figured that at best the palazzi might have some handsome stone portals and window frames, but given the general quality of Romanesque churches in the area, the cathedral would be the most worthwhile part of our visit.

I wasn’t at all prepared for what I found.

Window, ruined castle, Carinola

Window, ruined castle, Carinola

As I photographed the ruined castle that the guidebook hadn’t mentioned, a man driving by on a scooter stopped to tell me that there was a small church down the street, and that if I wanted to see it, I should ask his mother, who had the keys. I doubted that I would because I was anxious to see the cathedral, but a house with what looked to be a medieval arch incorporated into its façade drew me halfway down the street, and from there, chasing after Pata brought me right to the steps of the church.


Lunette with Annunciation, church of the Annunziata, Carinola.

Lunette with Annunciation, church of the Annunziata, Carinola.

Looking up, I saw, in the lunette of an elegantly simple portal, a faded fresco of the Annunciation, Renaissance in style. I’ve had a longstanding interest in the iconography of the Annunciation, and among the projects I abandoned when I left my old life for my new one was an examination of the semiotics of a few fifteenth-century Italian depictions of the theme. Every Annunciation I see reminds me of the euphoria of first conceiving of the idea, and the heartache of having given up such intellectual pleasures. Of all my abandoned projects, it is the only one that I could take up again at any moment. But I dither, and push it out of my mind, telling myself that working on it would get me nowhere.

While I trained my camera’s lens on the portal, I overheard a conversation spilling out from the open windows of the house next door.

“Are they here? Has the signora arrived?”


“Yes, yes, she’s already here.”

I didn’t realize they were talking about me until, looking away from the church, I saw N and Pata walking toward a very small, elderly woman holding a key in her hand. Unlocking an old wooden door, she led us into a room adjoining the church, an oratory, I think. As she indicated the entrance to the church with a wave of her hand, a flood of memories came over me, memories of other churches and other keys, of anticipation and wonder at seeing something for the first time, and of frescoes, frescoes most of all.

I remembered the sensation of my eyes poring over cycles whose scenes unfolded across entire walls of chapels while my heart beat impatiently, and fighting the inclination to glance hurriedly here and there because I couldn’t wait to know what I’d find. Inside the darkened church, I took a deep breath and scanned the walls of the nave for frescoes. And there they were: a couple of them fragmentary and faded, others darkened, and one completely unexpected.

Madonna and Child with Sts. Sebastian and Roche, church of the Annunziata, Carinola

Madonna and Child with Sts. Sebastian and Roche, church of the Annunziata, Carinola

Fictive marble, shadows “cast” by the painted framing pilasters, the figural style a bit clumsy and thin, but all of it beautiful enough, and so clearly fifteenth-century. And in the summit of the arch, in a lunette, an Annunciation. (Someone was trying to send me a message that day.)

Outside the church, the woman, pleased with the tip that N had given her, told us we could come back whenever we wanted. As I photographed the bell tower against the blue sky, I contemplated new possibilities, and Pata stepped in a patch of wet cement. I washed her shoes in a fountain at the top of the street, and, back at the car, placed them in a sunny spot on the dashboard. We left them there to dry, deciding to walk around the town for as long as Pata would tolerate being carried.We didn’t get to see the Romanesque cathedral. It didn’t matter.


12 responses to “Renaissance, Carinola

  1. My sincere wish is that one day you will be able to return to study the frescoes you so love and about which you write so well. I wish we both could, with freedom and without the pressures of academia, challenge ourselves intellectually by those objects we love both to see and interpret. For now, let's relish those unexpected moments of sheer pleasure with as little regret as possible about the choices we have made.

  2. I'm feeling a bit guilty about my recent crack about churches and frescoes. I do, however, admire your passion! Take the sign.

  3. Someday, Reb…but for now, you're right, let's see good days for what they are.Dana, why? Hey, whatever floats your boat! There's a lot of art I can't stand to look at, and I know that other people feel differently, but that doesn't keep me from expressing my opinion.

  4. Unexpected pleasures are the best kind. Lovely post, Karen – thank you. Great pix, also: those + your informed and informative descriptions are the next best thing to being there, for me. Still wish I could see 'em, tho'!Feel sure your suspicion that someone was sending you a message was correct …

  5. Thank you, Minnie. I'm hoping to go back again soon…I do want to see the cathedral, and I've since discovered that there is another interesting church with some very old frescoes (12th c. I think!)Becca, it really was wonderful to discover this place.

  6. I love it when things like that happen in small towns. Reminds me of when we went to one and had to meet some guy who know someone who worked at the comune to get the key to this ancient pharmacy, where they had the most amazing collection of 16thC ceramic medicine jars. Who ever would have guessed??VanessaPS When i read about N giving the old lady a tip, i was thinking 'what would he have known about the church that she didn't? Weird.' Then i realised you were talking about a MONEY tip ha h ah ah.

  7. Ha ha, I thought that "tip" was a bit unclear there but it was the end of the post and I was too lazy to think of another way to write it! Wow about those jars, I would have loved to see that.

  8. What a fantastic experience. The old lady with the key – a symbolic suggestion for you to return to your art studies??!

  9. Perhaps, Fern. I just need to find a way to make that possible. (I'm working on it.)

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