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In and About Viterbo S. Maria della Querce

The sanctuary of S. Maria della Querce is named after a miraculous image which a peasant had affixed to the trunk of an oak (quercia and querce in old Italian). It is located a few miles off Porta Fiorentina and a straight road leads to the sanctuary. Midway between Viterbo and the sanctuary Paulus III (1534-50) built a fountain for the pilgrims. In the XVIIIth century the most important families of Viterbo built their villas along this road: the image here below shows the fountain and a detail of a palace which once belonged to the Pamphili, the family of Innocentius X (1644-55).

Fountain with the coat of arms of Paulus III and detail of a palace with the Pamphily's coat of arms
Fountain (coat of arms of Paulus III) and detail of a palace (Pamphili's coat of arms)

The sanctuary was built between 1470 and 1525, mainly at the initiative of Sixtus IV (1471-84) and his nephew Julius II (1503-13). Their surname was Della Rovere, which means "of the oak" as rovere is another name for querce and their coat of arms shows an oak with twined branches. So the large frieze on the top of the church shows an oak (between two lions representing Viterbo), which is both a reference to the name of the sanctuary and to the Della Rovere popes (in the background of this page you can see a relief showing an oak).

Madonna della Querce
Madonna della Querce

S. Maria della Querce is a fine Renaissance church with a very original fašade. Four columns add a solemn character to it. The imposing bell tower is detached from the church as in the cathedrals of Florence and Pisa. The artists involved in the design of the sanctuary came from Central and Northern Italy (Perugia, Fiorenzuola, Milan).

Detail with the lions of Viterbo and the oak of the pope
Detail showing the symbols of Viterbo and of the pope

The central portal is a work by a local artist, while the terracotta is by Andrea della Robbia.

Main portal
Main entrance

The left portal has a terracotta showing St Dominic and in line with the traditional iconography of the saints he is portrayed with the symbols of his martyrdom. The adjoining monastery has a small balcony, which recalls the Papal Loggia of Viterbo.

S. Domenico and a little gothic balcony
S. Domenico and a little gothic balcony

The gilded ceiling was designed by Antonio da Sangallo. The coat of arms of Paulus III was added at a later moment.


The main cloister shows a mixed architecture although it was built in a relatively short period of time. It was started in 1487 and the lower floor shows the influence of gothic architecture, while it was completed a few years later by a full Renaissance upper floor.

Main cloister
Main cloister

In and about Viterbo - other pages:
Orte and Vasanello
S. Martino al Cimino

Walks with Ferdinand Gregorovius in the Roman countryside

some other walks:
A walk to Porta Furba
Via Appia Antica from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci
Via Appia Antica from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie

See my Home Page on Baroque Rome or my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller

All images © 1999 - 2003 by Roberto Piperno. Write to