The Church of Santa Sofia is a building of extraordinary architectural interest.
The church is part of the monumental complex of Santa Sofia, which includes the church, the annexed cloister and part of the abbey that today houses the Museum of Samnium. The restoration of the church of Santa Sofia has been made in the occasion of the presentation of the candidacy of the Lombard sites for the inclusion in the List of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO with the title Italia Langobardorum. The candidacy corresponds to the typology defined by UNESCO ‘Serial Site’, as it includes the most relevant Lombard evidences present on the national territory.
The Church of Santa Sofia was completed by Arechis II in 762 and represents one of the most important architectural evidences of the Longobardia Minor.
The church was unusually dedicated to S. Sofia (Santa Sapienza), maybe under suggestion of Paul the Deacon, similar to the Justinian one of Constantinople (Haghia Sophia). It housed, in the main apse, the relics of the Holy XII martyr brothers.
The Church was built on the model of the Palatine Chapel of Liutprando in Pavia and soon became national temple of the Lombards who sought refuge in the Duchy of Benevento after the defeat of king Desiderius by Charlemagne in 774.
The building was part of a wide project started by Arechis whose purpose was to create a refined style through the building of illustrious monuments. In addition to the wonderful Church, also the scriptorium was important, fundamental for the perpetration of the Beneventan script, a kind of script famous all around the world.
The Church was considerably modified by Carlo Buratti after the ruins caused by the earthquake of 1688, which made fall the segmented hexagonal central dome, much lower than the current, and the bell tower, which fell on the façade destroying the little portico. Then, it has been brought again to the original shapes between 1952 and 1957.
The Church of Santa Sofia has moderate dimensions (23.5 m. the circle) and a very original plant. The central hexagonal core has six columns joined with arches that support the dome. A second series of ten columns, not radially put but parallel to the walls, the perimeter walls, as well as amazing, have circular tendency at the entrance and at the bottom where there are the three apses. The remaining perimeter is star-shaped. The apses keep ample traces of wall paintings (VIII and IX c.). They represent the Story of Saint John the Baptist, the Annunciation to Zechariah of the birth of his Son, the Annunciation to Mary and the Visit of Saint Elizabeth to the Virgin Mary.
Other fragments of painted plaster, distributed in various points, make realize that the decorated surfaces were much wider and it is not excluded that the decorations interested the entire space. The wall structures show wide signs of integration and remake that have taken into account the typology and the weaving of the used material. The surfaces without plaster are mainly obtained with the laying of the listed brick that together with the tuff determines the predominant shade of color. Inside, the signs of reconstruction are visible, moreover evident for the different largeness of the courses and the lists.
The façade of the church presents itself in the Baroque lines and respects the configuration given to the building in the years following the earthquake in 1688 with a tympanum on two arches with different center, linked to the lateral fields with slightly curved roof.
The portion of the principal front corresponds to the entrance. It has the signs of an original advanced body where two recovered columns stand out, supporting the slight eave of the median part of the front.
Inside the recessed surface, a fine gate of the XIII century finds place, constituted by jambs and architrave in marble surmounted by a lunette respecting the building tradition of the coetaneous buildings of the area of Campania. The lunette is enriched by the presence of sculptures in high-relief depicting Christ among the Virgin, St. Mercurius and the abbot John IV who appear from a golden background.
The wonderful cloister is put on the back and is similar to that of Monreale for the corner of the portico that sticks out towards the yard. Around the cloister, the monumental building of S. Sofia develops, seat of the Museum of Samnium.