The Pieve dei Santi Giovanni e Felicita is located in the locality of Valdicastello in the municipality of Pietrasanta, in Versilia.
The building stands a few hundred meters from the Via Sarzanese, a road layout which here follows the ancient route of the Via Francigena. Most of the Romanesque churches of Versilia were born and developed along this road axis, many of which still exist today, such as the Pieve di San Pantaleone or the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Camaiore.
The construction of the church probably dates back to the last decades of the 11th century, as can be deduced from its stylistic characteristics; there are no documents that can allow a precise dating of the work.
The Pieve dei Santi Giovanni e Felicita was of great importance in the evangelization of the surrounding villages until at least 1387, the year of the construction of the Cathedral of S. Martino in Pietrasanta. In fact, it extended its control over the territory and over the churches of Pietrasanta and Stazzema.
The current building has a length of about 28m and a width of about 12m, it looks like a building with three naves without a transept, on a basilican layout, with a single apse and a bell tower (about 21m high) on the facade. The Church is oriented with the apse towards the East.
The Pieve appears today as the result of a series of renovations that have taken place over the centuries. Above all, the interventions of the XV, XVI and XVII centuries have distorted its original appearance, dating back very probably, as we have already said, to the XI-XII century.
The perimeter walls were built with certainty in the 11th-12th century with tuff blocks worked in opus quadratum, the lower part of the facade up to the height of the corner pilaster and the apse. The central portal also dates from the same period, made up of a white marble architrave surmounted by a lunette in which a round window with a Greek cross opens.
The Romanesque architectural style, of Lombard descent, of the salient façade confirms the dating of the Pieve.
The interior, with three naves marked by columns and arches in the round, has a roof with wooden trusses.
The marble decorations of the corbels in the apse, the single lancet window on the north side and the architrave on the façade arouse great interest. They represent motifs typical of medieval art and their analysis has contributed decisively to confirming the dating of the work. There are carved snakes, human heads, bulls, horses and sheep, and also a suggestive figure of a pilgrim with a stick.
It should be noted that some of these decorations are practically identical to those present in the coeval Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Stazzema; this detail allows us to conclude that these works are both the result of the work of the same group of “masonry masters” operating at the time in Versilia.
The interventions of the fifteenth century
After obtaining the episcopal authorization in 1408, the local architect and sculptor Bonuccio Pardini proceeded with the general elevation of the building in the Gothic style. In this phase the façade was enriched by the beautiful rose window, evidently inspired by the one present in the Duomo of Pietrasanta.
Bonuccio also inserted a marble decoration made up of a series of pointed arches at the end of the elevation of the central nave.
Regarding the fifteenth-century intervention, the historian from Versilia Santini stated in the nineteenth century:
“he so grafted the German Gothic style with the Longobard, that this Pieve of ours is still pleasing to the eye for its severe structure, and elegant slenderness.”
(Vincenzo Santini, Commentarii Versiliesi)
In 1597 Vincenzo Bazzichi completed the construction of the bell tower, inserted in the right side of the facade. Experts agree that this work was in any case begun a long time before, even if after the first construction phase of the Pieve.
The tower, in stone and brick, unlike the rest of the building built entirely of tuff, is spread over three superimposed orders of windows, has a square plan and has a considerable height compared to the church building.
With the exception of the southern elevation, on each side there are two single lancet windows for each order. Due to the addition of the bell tower, the facade of the Pieve lost its original symmetry, and even the roof of the central nave was reduced and moved to the left, so that the ridge of the roof is no longer aligned with the rose window and the main portal.
Inside the church you can admire the frescoes in the apse, from the late fourteenth century. The blessing Christ Pantocrate is represented there, of fine workmanship, similar to the one we find in the nearby Pieve di Vallecchia. On the wall of the bell tower, inside the Pieve, there is a painting of San Cristoforo with Child.
Also noteworthy is the bronze statue of St. John the Baptist by Marcello Tommasi from 1971. The bronze panels of the main door on the façade are by the same artist.
Outside the Pieve, in the courtyard of the rectory, is a well built in 1559 by Giuseppe Stagi, son of the sculptor from Pietrasanta Stagio Stagi.