St. Mary of Donnaregina Vecchia, Naples

History and Typology – The Santa Maria di Donnaregina church and the adjoining Clarisse nunnery were built on the order of Mary from Hungary, wife of Charles II, king of Naples and Sicily in the city of Naples. The construction was started in 1293 and completed in 1316. The medieval church has a single nave, above which the choir was suspended as a mezzanine level, supported by cross vaults on a double row of octagonal columns. This solution was applied because of the restricted dimensions of the plan. Starting during the reign of Charles II, the City of Naples became the new capital of the kingdom and ecclesiastic building underwent a rapid development in an attempt to compete with the monumental and artistic richness of Palermo, the former capital of the Norman dynasty. The new Anjou kings invited famous French architects to the kingdom, who often made radical transformations to the existing Romanesque buildings replicating the solutions of Angevin Gothic. Despite this fact Angevin roofs, which are characterised by a slope of 60°, the drastic reduction of the mutual space between the trusses, with the consequent elimination of the purlins and the possibility of laying the slated roof directly lying above the rafters, never appeared in Naples. In fact the classical typological schemes, already widespread in Italy from the Roman period, continued to be used in church buildings in every part of the peninsula, especially in Dominican and Franciscan monasteries, and have been employed instead of the French Gothic ones. St. Mary of Donnaregina is amongst the two remarkable churches of this period which preserved the ancient timber structures. The current simple king post type roof structure dates back to the end of the 14th century and consists of twelve silver fir trusses with timber blocking elements under the connections between the inclined struts and the rafters. The external roof covering is made from terracotta tiles, resting upon the timber purlins which are set at 300mm centres. Trusses have a clear span of 12.20m, set at 2.20m centres, and the roof is pitched at approximately 29°.

Roof Structure – The simple king post truss system and the covering of the roof was originally completely visible. As happened however to quite all the Angevin churches in Naples, the trusses were later hidden by a timber ceiling. The new ceiling may have been inserted when the new church of St Maria di Donnaregia was built next door in the early 1600s. The wooden coffered ceiling was suspended from the original roof structure. The coffered decorated ceiling hangs from metal and timber tie-rods which are attached to a secondary transverse structure lying upon the tie-beams of the trusses. The coffered ceiling is decorated with stars and ornaments in gilded relief. Each tile is squared by wooden frame and decorated with stars and cherub’s head made of paper mache. The central tile contains two figures representing the ‘Madonna crowned by the Trinity’. The simple roof truss, originally visible, and adorned with decorated corbels in the style of Florentine examples of the same period, has been modified by the later addition of the decorated ceiling. The reason was the increased load imposed by the introduction of the additional ceiling structure. Timber wedges, fastened by iron straps that embrace the corbels, have been inserted in the angle between the tie-beam and rafters, while the king post has been also connected to the tie-beam by a metallic tie. The structure has been strengthened several times by metal elements optimising the stress diagram of the roof structure.


Monaco – King Post
Puntone – principal Rafter
Saetta – Strut (inclined)
Fermasaetta – Gussets
Mensola – Corbel
Catena – Tie Beam
Cassettonato – Coffered (ceiling)
Muratura – Brickwork

Coffered ceiling
Coffered ceiling in the church St Maria Donnaregina, Naples
Figure 2: Plan and longitudinal section of the church of St. Mary of Donnaregina after Chierici’s restoration

Pictures taken by Janos Korom, 2013

Figure 3: Frontal view of the truss before the last intervention
Figure 4: Details of joints
Figure 5: Detail of the cross section
Figure 6: Diagrams of Bending moments in the two different schemes