It had been a tough year, 2014 and I needed a break. More than anything I needed a reason for a big break. When my German friend posted on his facebook page images of the painted churches of Matera. I knew that was my reason. I just found my reason to take off for a few days, to Italy no less. I would go only for a few days unless there is a huge reason. The crypt of original sin or in Italian, La cripta del peccato originale, was big enough reason to fly to Italy from Los Angeles. The intrigue around its discovery is all the more reason to see it. Back in 1962 a little tale told by a poor farmer in the nearby village set off a big search for this painted cave, 'cento santi' or 100 saints as the farmer calls it.
'What 100 saints?' He said, 'you know, all painted, the shepherds used to go in to pray.' He can't remember where it was, he was only 10 years old. So this little group of Materans started looking every Sunday, poking into every cavity in those rugged hills. They came up empty and almost gave up. They made one final attempt, first cave, nothing, second cave, nothing, third cave.....wait, there's something on the walls..... Oh my god, the 100 saints! So this was the story behind the discovery of the crypt of original sin, why the name? Here on one side was the frescoes of the creation story, the story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, here was the frescoes about the original sin.
What a find! Imagine being an archaeologist and making the discovery of a lifetime. Today this cave is under lock and key and is under the care of the Zetema foundation but tours of it can be arranged on their website. It is not close to anything, in fact, transportation there is a problem, one can hire a taxi and have them wait or hire a local guide and include this as part of the package. I hired a local guide for the day, cost me 120 euros but it was well worth it. Tell him what you are interested in and he will arrange a private tour. Before I left for Italy, I'd watched many videos of the crypt so when our guide stopped the car, I ran down the stairs, I'd already seen these steps so many times. The guy from the foundation was waiting for us with the key. We weren't allowed to take any photos but I shot these from their website.
I've been to many places and seen many frescoes but none can compare with these. They have an exquisite quality to it. There were painted in the 9th C, some 500 years before Giotto! I've never see Mary looking like this. She is so beautiful and her dress is like nothing I've ever seen before.
Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness with fig leaves and the snake is curled up in the tree next to them.
Details of St Peter's costume and he has keys on one of his hands.
There is a trail of red poppies at the base of the frescoes. The painter wanted to show that all the events are connected. No one knows who painted these frescoes, the painter is simply known as the painter of the flowers of Matera.
What an amazing visit. It still leave me breathless, to have seen such beauty!