St Paul’s Church - Viadana (Mantova) - Italy
In 1679, Paolo Vincenzi, a well-known man who lived in the village of St. Francis, melted down a 36 lb bell (approx. 16 kg) with the intention of moving it to the oratory that he wanted to build.
On Saturday the 14th of November 1682 he made a will, drawn up by the notary Francesco Baruffaldi, in which he appointed four executors to manage his assets and the local priest of St. Peter’s to supervise them. Furthermore, Vincenzi specified that on the grounds of his property the priest should oversee the construction of an oratory dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle for the local people to use. He also ordered the priest to decorate the chapel with two paintings: one devoted to St. Anthony and one to St. Vincent. His inheritance was to be used to celebrate weekday masses in the oratory, held by the St. Peter’s clergy. When Vincenzi died, the task was passed to St. Paul’s, with the episcopal decree dated the 26th of May 1687.
According to Parazzi, construction ended the following year, whereas according to Araldi, the provost of St Peter, Lodovico Tonni, marked the end of construction with a blessing on the 1st of July 1691.
80 years later Araldi described the church as follows: "This oratory is 38 cubit’s long (approx. 17.48 m), 28 cubit’s wide (approx. 12.88 m), 36 cubit’s high (approx. 16.56 m), with a vaulted ceiling and 8 windows of which 5 face the façade (2 on the ground floor and 3 on top, all facing south) and 3 face the back, with a tower housing the small bell made by Vincenzi while he was alive. At its centre there is a wooden ancona (not a golden one) containing a painting portraying the Holy Virgin Mary above and St. Paul below. The altar is also located in the centre of the church. To the right of the entrance there is a painting of St. Anthony of Padua, and another one of St. Vincent Ferreri with his choir above the door opposite." On the 30th of May 1761 the bishop of Cremona granted permission to celebrate weekday masses at St. Paul’s. Undoubtedly, this was allowed because the area where the church stood was at the time inhabited by the most powerful families in Viadana.
Five years later the archpriest of the village’s main church "il Castello", Don Paolo Francesco Gattafoni, traded a small bell from his church with St. Paul’s. This happened thanks to a certain Giovanni Borghini and it was used for the call to mass.
In the meantime, the large inheritance, which also included the "Sabbionare" possession, was overseen by Pietro Besana, interim administrator of the legacy (the others had died: Nobleman Luca Evangelista Bonanomi, Count Antonio Mazzucchini and Dr. Pietro Zangelmi). He rented the estate of 100 biolche to Sac. Pietro Trentini at 55 lira per biolca, with an agreement signed before the notary Pio Baruffaldi on September the 29th 1784.
St Paul’s major solemnities took place on:
January the 22nd, the celebration of St. Vincent the Levite and Martyr with bread donation to the poor, as requested by Vincenzi; the same donation was held before the altars of St. Cajetan in the churches of St. Peter and of Rosary in "il Castello", always upon the request of the Vincenzi family;
January the 25th, the celebration of "St. Paul of the Signs" or the Conversion of St Paul; mass in the morning followed by lunch in the house of Mr Ruggero Defendi (in front of Benozzi college), the deacon of St. Peter who was also managing St. Paul’s.
June the 30th, celebration with a display of the owner’s relic; masses with evening blessing;
According to Araldi, the abolition of the oratory took place on January the 30th 1786, whereas for Parazzi the effective abolition took place in 1789. This last date is inferred by a petition sent from the inhabitants of "il Borgo" to the bishop Offredi begging to keep St. Paul ‘s open for worship. We seem to find the same date in a copy of a receipt issued on May the 29th 1789 by the provost Nicola Buvoli, general administrator of Vincenzi’s bequest, to Carlo Veronesi and Pietro Ruberti, administrators of the abolished inheritance. The priest stated that he had received all the furniture from the oratory, sacred and profane, as well as the 5474 lire, 12 soldi and 6 denari left in the cash box, as ordered by Don Giuseppe Multi, the general royal administrator of the Religion Fund. In other words home, land and oratory were devolved to this new entity.
On July the 11th, five years later, the Lombardo-Venetian schools’ director ordered the opening of two new classrooms with two teachers and another subsidiary school (also with two classrooms) to be opened in St. Paul’s by Father Donelli, an observant minor friar, and his brother Don Lazzaro. This education was subject to a fee, partly paid for by community contribution. He also ordered that other schools, gymnasiums included, must be opened at St. Rocco’s premises.
The same year, after several applications, St. Paul’s was reopened as a subsidiary church of St. Peter’s. Amendments and renovations carried out at this time resulted in the 18th century look the oratory has today. The most valuable artwork was the wooden ancona carved by Viadana resident De Giovanni in 1763. It resembles the design of a Pianola, showing two caryatids, that with great effort support the frame decorated with cherubs, fruits and flowers. Below stood a crest and the following description:
HOC OPUS AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM DEAURATUM FUIT ANNO MDCCLXIII
This ancona was adorned with a painting, probably by Chiocchi, representing St. Paul, St. Vincent and the Holy Virgin Mary with Child. On the roof, but not in its original position, there is still a timepiece flag, pierced with WWII bullets, depicting the first owner and maybe a vault dedicated to St. Peter.
Inside, in the middle of the floor, we can still see the trap door to the underground tombs; two tombstones removed and transcribed by Parazzi are testament to this and read:
DOMENICA GOGNETTI WHO ONLY LIVED FOR 30 YEARS UNTIL OCTOBER THE 28TH 1837. OH DOMENICA WHEREVER YOU ARE PRAY COMFORT TO YOUR MOURNING HUSBAND CLEMENTE BESANA, HE MISSES YOU AND IS IN NEED OF YOUR SOLACE! (left part)
IN THIS HOLY PLACE WHERE WE OFTEN GATHERED IN PRAYER RESTS PAOLA GOGNETTI BORN AVOSANI. HER HUSBAND LAY THIS STONE AS AN INDELIBLE MEMORY OF THE WOMAN THAT HE LOVED BEYOND WORDS, JULY the 20th, 1846 (right part)
The oratory of St. Paul continued as a subsidiary church until just before WWII, when it was closed to worship. During the conflict, it was seized and used to house German troops. When the war was over it was bought by Mr Angelo Cerati who, when signing the paperwork, paid the total amount for the purchase of the building and paid for two new bikes to be given to St. Peter’s priest (clergy representative) for the annual lottery. Two years later in 1948, in front of a notary, the buyer had to pay the same amount previously paid as a result of devaluation. So, St. Paul’s church was sold only once, and paid for twice.
From the "Inventory of Viadanese places of worship" by Luigi Cavatorta