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  • Cripta del Peccato Originale (Crypt of Original Sin)

    By Anthony Parente

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    Located within a cave on the Murgia Plateau near the Via Appia in Matera is la Cripta del Peccato originale (the Crypt of Original Sin). The crypt, which is commonly called "the Sistine Chapel of Rupestrian Art" has been kept in obscurity for centuries. It was not until 1963 when a group of local youths who heard stories of this cave went exploring and eventually located it. It had become a shelter for sheepherders who referred to it as the "Cave of 100 Saints."

    Experts have since dated these frescoes to the second half of the 8th century. Unfortunately, the artist is unknown, but has been nicknamed il Pittore dei Fiori di Matera (The Flower Painter of Matera) due to the red flowers that appear throughout his works. The cave walls are adorned with images from the Old and New Testament. Along the back wall are images from the Book of Genesis. You see the hand of God above Adam with Eve emerging from his side. Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge with the snake wrapped around the trunk. It is that fresco that gives the crypt its name. In another area you will find three apses containing images from the New Testament. In one are frescoes of the Apostles John, Peter, and Andrew. The middle apse shows the Madonna holding the infant Jesus with saints on either side of them. The third shows the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael.

    Once the cave was discovered efforts were made to preserve the frescoes. This took some time for the cave to receive the recognition that it deserved. In 1993 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera. It was not until 2001 that the Zètema Foundation of Matera launched a full recovery project with the support of the Central Institute of Restoration. Over the centuries the frescoes were covered in moss, lichens and other bacteria that needed to be removed. To prevent this from reoccurring a drainage and ventilation system needed to be put in place. Thanks to the efforts of the foundation the crypt has been restored and a treasure was saved.

    The Crypt is open to the public, but you must purchase your tickets in advance. For additional information including hours, purchasing tickets and how to get there please visit: La Cripta del Peccato Originale site.

    Photos © La Cripta del Peccato Originale

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