At the end of the gentle climb up, an elegant portal with an ogee arch leads to a rectangular courtyard onto which four rock-churches face: this is known as the CONVICINIO DI SANT’ANTONIO.
The first church after the entrance arch was once known as the Chiesa di San Primo, but is now commonly referred to as the Church of the TEMPE CADUTE after the name given to the entire district, which was continually at the mercy of rock falls, or ‘tempe’.
The crypt is composed of two diverging chapels separated by a pillar that divides at the arches. The vault is in the shape of a dome, with central ribbing, and there are equilateral crosses in relief on the apsidal lunettes. An opening on the left leads to the Church of Sant’Eligio, next to it, also known as the Annunziata.
Crypt of Sant'Eligio
The crypt is dedicated to SANT’ELIGIO, who is regarded as the guardian saint of domestic animals. He was much venerated in the past by peasant and agrarian communities such as the Materani. On 1st December, his feast day, the peasants, shepherds and herdsmen used to bring their mules, horses and oxen into the piazzetta at crack of dawn and entreat his protection as they circled the column with its statue of St. Eligio that stands in the square, with the church.
Although the crypt has been rearranged and altered, having been converted for use as a cellar after the mass exodus and the building of the chapel in the Piano district during the C18th, its plan can still be read: a large hall for the congregation followed by the presbytery, the preserve of the clergy, indicated by three arches each of which marks out separate apses, where the altars are placed, that terminate the church.
In the room on the left, a C14th CHRIST PANTOCRATOR dominates a large apsidal lunette decorated with a series of panels. The iconography is classical: he is shown raising His right hand in blessing, holding an open Gospel in his left hand.
The apsidal calottes are decorated with a cross. Numerous traces of frescoes on the crypt walls give some idea of the original splendour of the décor.
Crypt of San Donato
The interior of the CRYPTA DI SAN DONATO is on a quadrangular plan with only two central pillars to break up the apsidal plan, that can just be made out. The ribbed vaults indicate the liturgical spaces: starting with the entrance: the vestibule, which is an anteroom, then the hall for congregational worship and lastly the presbytery, for the priest. The vault of the presbytery on the left is different, being a cross vault, and the central one has a large cupola inscribed with a raised lilied cross.
The frescoes are fine: on the arch between the left pillar and the external wall, the face of SAN DONATO can be seen, his saint’s halo eclipsed by his mitre.
On the right pillar, leaning against the apse, is a painting of St. Leonard in monk’s habit, raising his hand in a Latin blessing and holding the book and irons of his martyrdom, the iconography of this particular Saint. Below the small figure of the patron, genuflecting, can be seen.
On the intrados of the apsidal arch above right, there is a badly decayed fresco of St. Dorothy, a young girl from Cesarea in Cappadocia who was martyred in c. 311 A.D., who later became the patron saint of gardeners.
On the back wall of the apse, there are two C17th scenes: on the left, a Bishop on horseback slaying a dragon, which is a recurring theme in Christian liturgical iconography, as representations of both St George and the Archangel Michael demonstrate. On the right, a miracle of a Bishop Saint with monks and worshippers.
Crypt of St. Anthony
The last room (front entrance) is the crypt of St. Anthony, with an apsidal nave and two apsidal aisles. The central nave has an ogee vault with a rib; the apsidal cross vaults have carvings of lilied crosses. The millstones used in winemaking can be seen in both the nave and the aisle, testaments to the fairly recent past when the church was abandoned and used as a cellar. All the spaces opening out on the right of the nave and aisles were created during the same period and for the same reason. The round marks in the steps made by casks being rolled down the stairs into the deepest and coolest parts of the building are still visible.
On the right as one enters, St. Anthony Abbot (C15th) is on the first pillar and St. Sebastian (C15th) on the next; in the apse of the left aisle there is an C18th devotional scene, probably associated with the worship of the Madonna di Picciano.