The mysterious origin of the San Vittore alle Chiuse Abbey
San Vittore alle Chiuse (or delle Chiuse), in Genga, Ancona, is a Romanesque abbey that belongs to a group of four churches in Marche “dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, which are unique in the region” according to Maura Medri’s book “Sentinum 295 a.C.-Sassoferrato 2006” (L’Erma di Bretschneider, Rome 2008).
What do the four buildings have in common? They all have the same “quincuncial floor plan”, in which “a Greek cross is inscribed in a quadrangular space, with the inner space featuring nine bays, three apses dividing the back wall, and two counterposed apses where the side walls are.” According to Medri, this layout “originated in the East, and reached the height of popularity in Byzantine churches in Greece and the Balkans.”
Built between 1060 and 1080 AD, San Vittore alla Chiuse was the prototype for the other three churches in this group: Santa Croce in Sassoferrato, Santa Maria delle Moje in Jesi, and San Claudio al Chienti in Corridonia.
The roots of its style, however, remain quite mysterious. Medri writes, “Some say these churches are deutero-Byzantine because they imitate the typical models of the Second Golden Age of the Byzantine Empire, when the quincuncial layout came into fashion – to be later developed in the architecture of Armenian churches and Greek monasteries, and in other structures in some Slavic and Balkan areas. It is not clear how this architectural model made its way to Marche, but most theories revolve around the contacts between this territory and the Greek-Byzantine area, or the intermediation by Venice or the Exarchate of Ravenna.”
Whatever the mystery behind it, the beauty of this abbey is clear for all to see.