The Church of the Santissima Trinità (Holy Trinity) in Venosa, Basilicata – where Latin poet Horace was born – is actually made up of two buildings: the “old church” and the “unfinished church”.
The abbey was built in the area right next to an ancient Roman amphitheater, but experts still debate over the origins of the two structures.
What we know is that the old church – burial place of Norman princes and leaders like Robert Guiscard, Humphrey and Drogo of Hauteville, and William Iron Arm, who all lived between 1010 and 1085 – was build in the 11th century; we also know for sure that it was altered extensively after that, especially between the 18th and 19th centuries. As regards the unfinished church, it dates back to the 12th century and stems from the apse of the old one, extending its longitudinal structure.
To quote great art historian Cesare Brandi, “Now, the Trinity is still outside the village: its ruins – which are the ruins of a building that was never finished – are perhaps some of the most beautiful you can ever encounter, precisely because they are free of climbing ivy or willows. They are the perfect ruins of something that was never finished, and therefore is not broken into pieces. The beautiful, eternal rocks of the Roman amphitheater were of great service for this extraordinary monument.”
“Personally, I don’t think it’s impossible that it dates back to the 11th century in the oldest part, which is near the apse, while the shattered church still in use is probably even more ancient, and older than the Norman Age […] At the moment, I am not convinced by the theory that dates the new and unfinished church building to the time when the Normans had practically taken over Sicily, Memphis was not the capital anymore, and the Venosa Trinity did not represent the Norman Pantheon anymore…”
Dating issues aside, the place is simply marvelous. Brandi notes, “You hardly want to leave such a place. The moments you spend here are the kind that comes back like birds returning to the nest. They seem lost, but then you find them alive as ever in your memory, with the forced tone, color and light that memory adds to the things you want to hold on to” (translated from C. Brandi, “Viaggi e scritti letterari”, Bompiani, Milan 2009).