Chapel of St. Helena
Nova Ponente Centro/Deutschnofen Dorf, Deutschnofen/Nova Ponente, Dolomites Region Eggental
Chapel of St. Helena • Churches in South Tyrol
The Chapel of St. Helena is particularly impressive on account of its rich frescoes, a major work of the Bolzano school of painting from around 1400. Art historians state that these are closely related to the murals in the Parish Church of Terlano and the Church of St. Catherine in Aica by Fiè. The Niederthor crest on the triumphal arch strongly suggests that the painting of St. Helena – like that in Terlan – was commissioned by the noble Niederthor family. Concealed behind paint for a long time, the coat of arms was once more revealed in 1885 and fully restored in 1938.
The outer walls feature images of St. Helena, St. Christopher and a crucifixion group on the façade, while on the south wall towards the apse there are representations of Mary with the infant Jesus and the three Holy Virgins, Catherine, Barbara and Margaret.
Inside the church, vaulted frescoes in the nave show the four evangelists with their respective symbols, each with an excerpt from his gospel. In the apse Christ appears enthroned as judge, surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists. The series of the twelve apostles below was partially destroyed during a subsequent extension of the windows. The triumphal arch points in the direction of the nave to the story of Cain and Abel, while the intrados depicts scenes from the Creation. The side walls of the nave feature images from the life of the Mother of God and Jesus’s childhood: the Annunciation, the Visit of Mary to Elisabeth, Mary and Joseph, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation at the Temple and the Flight into Egypt. On the west wall opposite the altar are St. Helena, St. Sebastian, a proclamation and the Bishops Ulrich and Wolfgang.
The church is Romanesque in its basic features and probably goes back to the 12th century. The small, rough stone relief to the far right of the façade dates from the 14th century. In 1410 the church was re-consecrated following completion of the painting. In 1500 the tower was given its wide pointed-arch window; the deeper-lying, coupled round-arched windows were bricked up. The altar structure dates back to the first half of the 17th century; the altarpiece is signed “J. G. Plazer 1723”.
The Church of St. Helena stands, according to legend, on silver ore. An ancient tradition tells of mining activities in the immediate vicinity of the church: G. Innerebner lists the church hill below the prehistoric settlements as a probable place of worship and orientation.
A detailed description and interpretation of the frescoes appears in the colour guide “St. Helena near Nova Ponente” SB 21 (M. Frei).