By Philip Pulella
SAN SEVERINO MARCHE, Italy (Reuters) – Guests of honor did not dress at the opening of a new museum in the picturesque Italian city of San Severino Marche. They were firefighters in equipment worn when rescuing works of art damaged by earthquakes in 2016 and now restored and on display.
The three major earthquakes that struck central Italy between August 24 and October 30, 2016, killed more than 300 people and caused extensive damage to homes, churches and museums.
Six years later, some of the restored works of art have found a permanent home. Other pieces are waiting to be returned to their restored churches or relocated.
In the Marche area, which suffered the brunt of the earthquakes, 1970 works of art were damaged, about half of them severely. In Umbria, bordering on thousands, others were damaged when small churches and large basilicas collapsed.
“Art can be an inspiration for reconstruction, joy and hope,” said Francesco Masera, archbishop of Camerino and San Severino Marche, at the museum’s recent opening.
Its name, Museo dell’Arte Recuperata (Museum of Restored Art), transmits the transition from disease to health
“I feel like I’m in a field hospital, where the survivors are treated until they recover,” said the famous Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
Some of the restored works are shown next to photos or videos showing dust-covered firefighters rescuing them from the ruins.
EARTHQUAKE ARTS “HOSPITAL”
After an earthquake in Umbria in 1997, which damaged the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the regional government decided to prepare for the next big one.
Since 2006, an industrial area outside Spoleto has been home to Italy’s first specially built facility to receive and restore works of art damaged by earthquakes.
The huge earthquake-resistant resilient building with cutting-edge technology is divided into airtight sectors that store thousands of works of art.
The first, an emergency reception area, is large enough for trucks to enter and unload. Huge vacuum tubes hanging from the ceiling remove dust.
The remaining sectors have individual climate control for each purpose – to prevent further damage or deterioration, recovery and storage while waiting for disposal.
The mesmerizing set of paintings, murals, statues, chalices, candelabra, robes, reliquaries and ornate wooden crucifixes can be astounding to the visitor. Outside, dozens of church bells are lined up as guards.
“It’s very important to see the big picture, and that includes regular maintenance,” said Giovanni Luca Delogu, a 55-year-old art historian and director of the Spoleto facility.
“You can’t just intervene when there are tragedies like earthquakes. Some pieces were already in poor condition. Art needs constant care, “he said, walking through hundreds of pieces of the ruined 12th-century church of San Salvatore in Campi.
The pieces, many of which are still attached parts of frescoes, are sorted, marked and assembled like pieces of a puzzle. They rest next to photos of areas taken before the earthquakes.
The two pink windows of the church and the intricately carved stone screen that once connected the sides of the arch are brought together.
St. Benedict’s Basilica in nearby Norway, the jewel of medieval architecture in Umbria’s Nera Valley and a major tourist attraction, is being restored.
But the fate of smaller gems such as San Salvatore in Campi or Santa Maria della Pieta in Prechi is unclear.
Delogu allows parish groups to enter the vault to see the statues they once prayed to. Some lend to cities for religious events with deep local pride, such as processions on the day of the patron saint’s day.
“Even an earthquake can’t break some ties,” he said.
(Report by Philippe Pulella; Editing by Emelia Sitole-Matarice)