Dedicated to the Virgin, the most important church in the village takes its name from the Valley of Carapale which it overlooks. Today it is located along the main road - called the ‘doughnut’ because of its shape - and it originally stood outside the early medieval area, located in the upper part of the village. There is no definite information about the year of its foundation, but it was mentioned in papal bulls from the 12th century.
It has undergone reconstructions and renovations over time, especially as a result of seismic events; and its present appearance is the result of the radical transformation implemented in the mid 16th century, when it was enlarged into the parish church with the double title of Santa Maria della Valle and Saint Eustachio, the patron saint of the village.
Between the second half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century the interior of the church was covered with stucco decorations. In 1685 the overly numerous altars were demolished - there were even altars leaning up against the pillars - while further changes, which also affected the facade, were made during the restorations and consolidations which followed, in particular, the earthquakes of 1627, 1711 and those in 1915 and 1917.
The last repairs, were necessary because of the damage caused by the earthquake of 1984 and were carried out in 1990 by the Superintendency of BAAAS. The current brick floor was laid and the Baroque decoration was removed from the square pillars revealing some of the frescoes from the Renaissance that are now visible at the entrance.
ExteriorThe church is accessed via a stone staircase which was built in 1680 and altered several times subsequently. Originally extending to the front, it today characterizes the middle of the piazza, reminiscent of typical 18th century Baroque churches in Abruzzo.
The façade is plastered, horizontally crowned and divided into two orders by a cornice. In the upper bay is the rose window, above which the front elevation ends with a cornice supported by stone brackets.
The overall appearance dates back to 1563, but other elements from different periods are also visible. The central portal with a round arch, splayed and supported by hanging columns, is in fact an excellent example of the Burgundy school (13th century). It is surmounted by a panel decorated with a bas-relief with floral elements, and is likely to be a remnant of an older arch which together with the short side frames of the entrance, presumably had a suppport function.
The side doors and the architraves date from 1636, while the two circular windows above them were opened up in 1840.
On the divide of the facade is a rose window and on the central strip of the frame are four carved faces of seraphim on the cardinal points which branch off from the centre columns and are connected by trefoil arches. It was made in the 1920s by Vittorio Spagnolo of Scanno and is a reproduction of the original wooden one which was destroyed by the earthquake of 1915.
From the apse to the left of the building stands the square bell tower. It has a Romanesque style, is divided by frames in three rows, and is topped by a pyramid-shape. The bell compartment has four high archivolted windows, in each of which is fitted a bell. Dating back to 1563, it has been repeatedly reinforced and restored.
InteriorThe interior has a Baroque appearance but has kept its medieval floor plan. It is divided into three naves with round arches set on four pillars and two stone columns. At the end is a semicircular apse.
The barrel vaults of the aisles are lowered and the central one, with lunettes, is punctuated by arches decorated with 17th century paintings representing Saint Eustace, the Virgin and San Biagio, framed by elegant stucco-patterned swirls, shells, cherubs and floral swags.
The wooden entrance vestibule dating from the 18th century, is surmounted by a wooden choir from the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. The balustrade is decorated with painted panels with scenes from the life of the patron saint. The organ above is only decorative and the painted reeds have replaced the original ones which were stolen. On the right is the chapel of San Costanzo with 18th century marble - the work of artists from Pescocostanzo - in which the remains of the saint, granted by Pope Benedict XIV in 1753, are preserved.
On the first two pillars, at the start of the nave, are the only visible remains of the precious Renaissance frescoes, brought to light during the restoration of 1990. On the right is Sant'Agata, while on the left are Sant'Antonio Abate (1549 ) and a Madonna and Child, probably from an earlier date. At the foot of this support is a viewing panel in the floor, made during the same works, which shows that during the renovations the 16th century the floor of the church was raised by 80 cm compared to the medieval one.
On the walls of the aisles are the altars, adorned with stucco and gilding which were executed in 1605 by Orazio Giannotti from Civitanova. Of note is the altar of the SS. Rosario (1579), at the bottom of the right-hand aisle, where there is a valuable painting from the Roman school dating back to 1604. It represents the Virgin and Child Enthroned, in the act of giving the crown to St. Dominic and Catherine. The scene is framed by fifteen roundels which depict the mysteries of the Rosary.
In the apse you can admire the high altar, made of polychrome marble, which is finely carved with relief motifs of putti. It was executed in 1732 by marble workers of Pescocostanzo and Alfedena, and was designed by the famous artist from Pescocostanzo called Panfilo Rainaldi.
On the wall to the right of the choir is a large wooden shrine of the 18th century, which houses many relics of Saints, the oldest of which dates back to the 16th century.
The heptagonal wooden baptistery from the 16th century - to the left of the main altar - and the four confessionals together with the pulpit, were carved in 1766 and adorned with twisted columns, swags, acanthus leaves and scrolls, by the famous cabinetmaker of Pescocostanzo Ferdinando Mosca.