Hidden among the olive groves and hills of Sabina, in central Italy, lies the Romanesque church of Santa Vittoria, a medieval structure that tells an interesting story.
The church, dating in its current state, to the late 12th century, was built over a shrine founded around the cult of Saint Victoria, a Christian martyr from the third century.
As story goes Victoria, who refused to marry a pagan patrician, was exiled there, to Sabina, where she performed a miracle.
According to the legend she chased away a dragon that was threatening the inhabitants of Trebula Mutuesca in return for their conversion. She was then denounced as a Christian to the authorities in Rome and was murdered for refusing to adore an idol of Diana. Popular local tradition claims she was buried in the cave originally occupied by the dragon, the current site of the Church of Santa Vittoria.
Traces of an older history are visible on the facade and exterior walls of the building where, among the marble and stone revetments, some elements dating back to Roman times and the earlier Middle Ages are clearly visible. One of them is a lion and a face that might be that of Helios, the Sun god and many of these were probably salvaged (or maybe pillaged) from the nearby archaeological site of Trebula Mutuesca, originally a Sabine town conquered by the Romans.
A marble portal crowned by the figure of the Agnus Dei leads into the nave of the church, while some original frescoes are still visible inside, including a painting of the saint herself.
In the 15th century, the Orsini family, the lords of these territories, reconstructed the damaged church.
The church is built over a short section of catacombs, where a sarcophagus is still visible, and deeper below there is a network of recently discovered water channels that may suggest the site could have been previously used in pre-Christian times as a sacred spring.
As of 2019, due to an earthquake, the interior of the church could be not accessible and you can visit only the courtyard.
Images from web – Google Research