What it is and where it is
In a small, quiet and isolated valley stands the Abbey of Santa Maria di Vezzolano, considered the highest example of Romanesque art in Piedmont because of the richness and refinement of its decorations. The facade is salient, with its outermost wings, corresponding to the two side aisles, lower than the central one. The lower part of the facade is brick, while from the middle upwards these alternate with bands of sandstone. The horizontal band ed decoration is taken up by the series of three orders of blind columns enriched by the mullioned window and statues. At the apex of all this is the statue of the Blessing Father God.
Why it is special
Passing through the door we find the true peculiarity of the Abbey: the nave is divided into two parts by a pier: the jubé. It is a legacy of sacred architecture prior to the Council of Trent, when clergy and faithful stood in two different areas of the church. This partition is extraordinarily decorated with two bands of overlapping polychrome bas-reliefs, representing the Patriarchs and The Stories of the Life of the Virgin Mary. This is a very rich work for the time, as confirmed by the use of lapis lazuli used to adorn the figures of Mary and Christ.
Not to be missed
One cannot visit the church without pushing into the rooms of the abbey. The chapter house and the cloister, with its medieval frescoes, the garden and the variety of capitals that adorn its columns. Now that we have come this far, may I ask you a question: have you noticed anything unusual about the church? Anything that is not exactly as I described it? Speaking of the facade I counted three naves when in fact, once inside there are only two. The third aisle was sacrificed to build other spaces, one of which turns out to be the council chamber. Fortunately, they left the facade intact!
A bit of history
There are several legends about the foundation of the abbey, and an inscription on the inner pier attributes its authorship to Frederick Barbarossa. There is actually a document from 1095 that already records it as being part of an important monastic complex that was later destroyed. After a long period of splendor between the 12th and 13th centuries, it began a slow decline that became unstoppable from 1405. The date 1800, when the Napoleonic administration turned the Abbey into a country church and the cloister into a granary, is also recorded.
One of the legends about the origin of Vezzolano Abbey has Charlemagne as its protagonist : in 774 the king, returning from his victory over the Lombards, was hunting in these woods accompanied by two other knights, when suddenly three skeletons emerged from a tomb. The fright was such that it caused the king an attack of epilepsy curable, according to a hermit, only by building a church in honor of the Virgin Mary. The most famous fresco in the cloister representing the Contrast between the Three Living and the Three Dead would refer to this very legend.
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