Located in the heart of the city of Chieti stands the Cathedral of San Giustino, one of the most important religious buildings of Abruzzo. Typical of much of Italy Chieti is on top of a hill, only a few miles from the Adriatic and the Majella mountain range with views of both, and the heart of a wine-growing region. The cathedral itself is reached via the usual circuitous road up the hill into the centre of town, just off the Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II where some parking is available (depending on time of day!).
This fine gothic structure was founded in 1069, and has been the subject of several reinventions and make-overs since, sometimes due to catastrophe (such as the earthquake of 1703), particularly the impressive bell tower which has had restoration work done as recently as 1947. The main building is made of brick with a limestone base and medieval style apses. Entrance is made via large wooden doors within an elaborate carved stone portico, leading into a small reception area from where a set of glass-paned doors allow you into the main church itself, accompanied by what sounds like a screech of almost penitential angst (fortunately only squeaky hinges). This is an excellent space, high ceilings and white marbled floor, a strong baroque vibe offset by a clean, bright spacious feel that is instantly relaxing if somewhat overwhelming in its scale.
The entrance is underneath the organ, from where you look straight along the nave to the altar and behind it the gilt-framed retable. Walking down this central aisle you reach the transept, a junction is gloriously surmounted by a dome with inlaid circular plain-glass windows, to either side of which are two ornate metal chandeliers. The nave also has a series of painted frescoes. Several paintings in renaissance style adorn the walls, and there is even a silver statue of St Justin himself.
There are several side chapels, most impressively possibly the first one on the left with its own white & gold samite-esque drape and gold-painted mini-dome. A series of stained-glass windows also provide attractive tonal qualities and interesting floor & wall patterns that called to mind disco beats more than choral dirges, though we resisted the urge to get funky with it and maintined an air of solemnity.
The Cathedral of San Giustino has an excellent romanesque crypt, and during restoration of this area several 14th & 15th century murals have come to light, so worth checking out as well.
Roddy Newlands is co-editor for lifeinabruzzo.com, Abruzzo allows him to get his mountain-air fix, & satisfy his passion for pasta & panettone. He works full-time for groBlogs where he boosts online business development for clients via his super duper online marketing skills