The Church of S. Giacomo Apostolo closes due to collapse of the roof
 By Antonio Piccoli

On 28th December the main Church in Torricella, the parish Church of S. Giacomo Apostolo, was closed again to attendance by the faithful only 9 years after it was reopened.

On 27th December, Don Giuseppe Di Pietrantonio, Torricella’s parish Priest sent an urgent telegram to the Township of Torricella, to the Fire Officers at Casoli, to the Superintendent of Belle Arti at Chieti, to the Civil Protection at L’Aquila and to the Diocesan Administration, urging a rapid response since part of the roof had collapsed. The first to arrive on the scene, the morning of 28th December, some Fire Officers from Casoli, accompanied by an Officer from the Township of Torricella and a Carabiniere (Police with Military and Civil duties) from the local Carabinieri Station, ascertained that the damage was serious and that part of the Church was endangered and therefore, although they were waiting for the engineer from the Fire Service, Mr. Barboni, to draw up a report ordering the Mayor to close the Church, for the moment, for the sake of safety, they ordered that it all be closed immediately.

On Christmas Eve the Midnight Mass had been said, even though there had been heavy signs of dampness in the area of the left aisle (see second photo), but no one thought that the roof was about to collapse. The next day, Don Giuseppe sent a construction worker to see what emergency work might be needed. The construction worker stated unequivocally that nothing could be done because the iron beam supporting the roof timbers was twisted and the wooden beams had come out of position, causing the collapse.

For the moment, as a first precaution, a heavy plastic sheet was used to cover all the collapsed area, to avoid any further infiltration of water (see photo), in the hopes that it would not snow, otherwise one could expect the worst with the internal aisle collapsing too.

But effectively how were things in reality? Why had this point been reached? We already knew since March 2004 that there were problems, so why had nothing been done?


Torricella Peligna - Church of S. Giacomo Apostolo
Showing the area of the roof that has collapsed, temporarily covered with a plastic sheet

I went to talk to Don Giuseppe on the 29th December and he showed me the files with all the letters that he had written since March 2004, denouncing the seriousness of the situation for the Church.

The Parish of Torricella numbers five Churches of which three are in the centre S. Giacomo, S. Rocco and S. Antonio, whilst two are outside the village, the Madonna delle Rose and S. Agata. Of these S. Giacomo and Madonna delle Rose are classified as Monuments and consequently are subject to the laws of the Belle Arti (Fine Art Protection Board). Thus any work to be done to them, even repairing a small fragment of plaster or changing a broken pane of glass, needs the approval of the Belle Arti Official. From this it follows that in the Church of San Giacomo, even if it is falling apart, nobody can do anything, not even to prop it up in an emergency: first a plan has to be drawn up, then the Official must approve it and only then can the work be carried out.

 Church of San Giacomo Apostolo
Inside the left aisle beneath the collapsed roof. A large area of dampness can be seen.

Even when it was being rebuilt, following damage from the earthquake of 1984, the Belle Arti were always involved in any decisions and in all the variables during the work. I personally recall how much Don Ignazio Cocco had to fight to get approval for the paint or for the types of door frames and window frames.

The works of reconstruction and consolidation were finished in 1990 but the Church was not reopened to the faithful until 1995 because there was not sufficient money to carry out the works needed for the pavements, the paint, the electric plant and the central heating. The pillars of the right aisle and the right wall were strengthened with micro-piles. Moreover the façade was taken down, consolidated within and then reassembled stone by stone, each one having been numbered. Actually, to listen to the planners and the builders, the Church was handed over totally rebuilt and having been made secure.

Unfortunately this was not true. After a few years the first signs of new lesions appeared on the columns and on the arches of both the left and right aisles and also behind the façade.

In 2002, to be precise on 5th November, following an earthquake on 30th October that devastated San Giuliano di Puglia, with all those children trapped by the collapse of their school, Don Giuseppe, taking advantage of the fact that there had been another shock from the earthquake, had began to write: to the Mayor, to the Civil Engineers at Chieti, to the Fire Officers at Casoli, to the Diocesan Administration at Chieti, to the Superintendent at Chieti and to the Department of Civil Protection at l’Aquila. He wrote that there were widespread lesions with detachment of plaster on the vaults and weight-bearing columns and requested an urgent meeting with their technicians.

On 7th November the Communal engineer, Surveyor Ottobrini, intervened, admitting that on his own he could not evaluate the seriousness of this situation and so he asked for the Fire Officers to advise. The Fire Officers arrived on 21st November and said that from their dispatch centre it would be difficult to prove that the lesions could all be attributed to the earthquake. There were, however, conditions affecting safety as long as the Church remained open to the faithful.

(Thus if this early damage was not entirely due to the earthquake it is evident that the reconstruction work had not been very well carried out.)

After another two years things continued to worsen, in particular there are large areas of flaking due to dampness; in particular involving the left aisle and the apse. The latter is so rotten that the Priest had to cover it with a length of white cloth.

Here in truth something was done that is almost laughable or let us say contrary to Church architecture. Imagine this: in order to make the outside of the apse look better, or rather its external convexity, some "enlightened" architect or engineer (and where were the Belle Arti?) thought it a good idea to remove the plaster to expose the stones of the wall, as one does on vertical walls. At this point it is natural that when it rains onto the convexity, since there is no roof or even any particularly hydrophobic plaster, the water easily penetrates into the inside. So we have the exterior that is beautiful and clean, but no-one can see it since it is behind the Church, and the interior that is above the altar, where once the portrait of San Giacomo stood, and where all the faithful look during prayers, that is damp and decrepit and covered in a white cloth.

Let us just draw a veil of piety over it.

Now let us pass to this year.

  1. On 27th March 2004 the Priest made his first report, to the usual organisations, saying that there were widespread lesions and areas of heavy dampness.
  2. On 7th April the Architect Celenza from the Superintendent’s Office at Chieti came to inspect and admitted that the Church needed urgent work to avoid further damage from the widespread dampness, and moreover he promised the Priest that he would personally petition for funds at the Superintendent’s Office.
  3. On 29th April Architect Celenza replied that unfortunately there were no funds and the organisation that must carry out the work should be the Diocese, which after all is the owner of the Church. The same day Architect Celenza also wrote a letter to the Township of Torricella drawing to their attention that they should urgently intervene for public safety. (But the Township, as Don Giuseppe says, still has done nothing.)
  4. In order to carry out any work first a plan must be drawn up, which then has to be approved by the Superintendent, estimates are needed, funding must be found and then finally the work can be carried out.

Nine months go by but no one has taken any action and no one is willing to give even minimal funding for the reconstruction work.

They thought about denouncing the firm that carried out the previous repairs, but the Diocese said that by now too many years had elapsed since the work was completed and thus it was out of guarantee.

(I believe that to denounce the firm, the director of the project, the inspector who said the work had been carried out "expertly and professionally", would not have been such a bad idea, at least in order to find out exactly what work had been achieved and the manner in which it was carried out. The The total cost was around 1 billion {a thousand million} lire, and thus an important sum and a minimum long term guarantee ought to have been in place or at least an insurance policy covering eventual damage attributable to the work carried out.)

Now we have arrived at the present day:

  1. The Priest sent a telegram on 27th December to the usual organisations asking them to intervene with urgency.
  2. The Fire Officers from Casoli arrived in the morning of 28th December and ordered the Church to be closed whilst awaiting the order from the Mayor.
  3. In the afternoon of the 28th the Engineer from the Fire Department at Chieti arrived, carried out an inspection to draft his damage report. This report will then be sent with urgency to the Priest and the Mayor.

Whilst awaiting this report, Don Giuseppe has charged Architect Enzo D’Ambrosio from Pennadomo to draw up a plan for making the roof secure and for repairing it. This project, at least regarding the shoring up of the building and the future plans, should be put before the Architect Celenza from the Superintendent’s Office for approval. Thus they can proceed to asking for estimates from the various firms and to assessing the amount of finance that will be needed.

At the moment it seems that the CEI, the Italian Episcopal Conference, might finance 25% on condition that the parishioners also contribute, and the payment will be proportional to the number of parishioners.

Certainly Don Giuseppe has not been very fortunate regarding Churches in his as yet brief sojourn in Torricella. Since the Archbishop of Chieti sent him to Torricella to take the place of Don Roberto, he has seen the closure of one Church after another.

No sooner had he arrived than he found that the roof of S. Antonio was broken. In this case there was already a contract with a local building firm signed by Don Roberto, which, with a heavy heart, he was forced to honour, so as not to run the risk of retaliation due to lack of usage of the firm. Even though some 50% of the estimate, about 25,000 Euros, was subsidized by the Abruzzo Region, the rest had to be funded by the Parish. Thus, after having knocked at every door without being able to find any other support, against his will he had to take out a mortgage for 25,000 Euros, which he is still paying at the rate of 2,150 Euros a month. He is on the 7th payment out of 12.

The work on the roof was finished this year, but Don Giuseppe says "we still need to carry out several little jobs inside and redo the furnishings and …. there are no Liras left". Therefore it has not been reopened. Now, moreover, it is raining inside again.

In the meantime, on 3rd July 2003, he received a Township order to close the Church of S. Rocco to the faithful, because the roof is made of "eternit" and therefore dangerous to the health since it contains asbestos. It has to be specially disposed of in appropriate containers and then a new roof must be constructed. The Mayor, furthermore, peremptorily orders that the work must be carried out within 60 days or else the Township will do it at the Parish’s expense. Don Giuseppe asked for estimates and he realised that this work will cost about 100,000 Euros. He turned again for help to the Abruzzo Region, but they replied that they cannot find any further monies for another Church in the Parish until three years have elapsed since the last time they financed a Church there, which was that of S. Antonio.

Meanwhile he asks the Mayor for an extension, since he is almost entirely without a Lira, but still has the mortgage for S. Antonio to pay. Last September, three years after the previous financial aid, he again asked the Region for help, but still has not yet had any reply.

Don Giuseppe says:

"But even the middle school’s gymnasium and the covered market have "eternit" roofs and for these structures too, which do not belong to the Parish, immediate work has been ordered, but as yet nothing has been done."

At this point, after 28th December, there are no Churches left in Torricella. Only the Madonna delle Rose is left or S. Agata at Colle Zingaro for holding the Holy Mass. But these are far away from the centre of the village. And it is difficult for the faithful, especially elderly women, to undertake a journey of about 4 Km every day.

Thus, together with several parishioners, he thought that "since the middle school and the covered market have not been closed, why should the Church be the only thing to be closed?" And so "let us go back to the Church of S. Rocco for the moment."

In 1991 too, Don Ignazio, who however hard he tried was unable to bring to a conclusion the works on the Church, built an altar on Christmas Eve using bricks and planks from within the Church, contravening the safety laws of the open building site, and then called all the parishioners to celebrate Midnight Mass there. This act of disobedience shook the authorities, who afterwards busied themselves into finding the funds to complete the works.

Let us hope that this time too this act of protest will serve a useful purpose.

Translation courtesy of Mirella Palizzi Piccone and Marion Apley Porreca

<==== Notizie/News