Caroline BRUZELIUS | Lucas GILES | Leopoldo REPOLLA | Emanuela DE FEO | Andrea BASSO | Elisa CASTAGNA
(Duke University, Durham, USA)

Keywords: ground-penetrating radar, cloud point scan, 3D model, historic architecture

Choir screens were a common feature of church interiors, separating lay public from clergy, and restricting access to the high altar by creating differentiated sacred zones.   By the end of the thirteenth century they sometimes conditioned both the design and construction process of a church, forming an “interior façade” as well as a place to pause construction.  They were markers of the spiritual and social topography of church interiors, containing multiple altars for lay patrons whose tombs and votive images often clustered near the relics of patron saints.  As indexes of social and spiritual activity, they once articulated important aspects of the liturgy and function of sacred space.
Yet studies of choir screens have been handicapped by their almost complete elimination after the Counter-Reformation. In Italy they were mostly dismantled by the late sixteenth century; their altarpieces, sculpted decoration, and tombs were destroyed or dispersed.
This case study is based on geo-radar and cloud-point scans to identify the location of and reconstruct the choir screen at S. Chiara.  As in most digital projects, the 3D model represents a collaboration between multiple. Our work indicates that the screen was an integral feature of the design and construction of this massive Neapolitan church.  It probably contained altars dedicated to the order’s two major saints, Francis (on the left), and Clare (on the right), locations that explain the anomalous presence of their side chapels dedicated to them in the middle of long rows of lateral chapels on either side.   In addition, a sculpted relief of the life of St. Catherine, formerly positioned against the west wall of the church, fits perfectly above the arches of the reconstructed screen.

Relevance conference / session:
New technologies enable us to reconstruct important elements of religious architecture that had both a liturgical and social function, such as choir screens in churches.

The combination of GPR, cloud point scans, and 3D modeling to reconstruct an important feature of interior space.


  1. Bruzelius, Caroline, “The Architecture of the Mendicant Orders. A Review of Recent Literature,” Perspective. La revue de l’INHA, pp. 95-116.
  2. Bruzelius, Caroline, The Stones of Naples: Church Building in the Angevin Kingdom, 1266-1343, Yale University Press, London, 2004 ; Italian ed: Le Pietre di Napoli, Rome, Viella, 2005