Italian Basilica Faces Collapse
Concern is growing that the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, badly damaged in a series of earthquakes on September 26, may have to be closed permanently.
The Basilica, which contains many historic works of art, including the legendary Giotto frescoes of the life of St Francis, was built in the 13th century and has withstood earthquakes in the past. Now, however, it is feared that not only the basilica itself but also the surrounding buildings used by the Franciscan friars may have to be abandoned. Work is not being helped by continuing tremors in the region.
The Upper Church, where the principal collapse occurred, has to be supported, possibly using similar trussing techniques to those employed to support the Tower of Pisa. Unless the building itself can be saved the frescoes will be lost.
The work of restoration of the damaged artwork has been hindered by the need quickly to rescue those who had been trapped by the collapsing ceiling. Experts say that rubble should properly be sorted by art restorers, but in that in this case the need to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of those who died had necessarily taken priority.
It is now understood that the Giotto Life of St Francis has not been severely damaged. The works lost are a scene of St Jerome, correct attribution of which remains contentious, and an image of St Matthew in Judaea, generally attributed to Cimabue. Another work of Cimabue, a crucifixion, survived the earthquake.
The restoration work is being overseen by Antonio Paolucci, who is pessimistic about the outlook for the building. "One Cimabue lost, one Giotto probably lost, 60 square metres of painting destroyed," Mr Paolucci said. "I don't think it's idle doomsday talk to say this is a real catastrophe."
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