The Parish Church of San Giovanni in Vespolate
A Romanesque gem set among rice fields
What it is and where it is
The ancient parish church of San Giovanni Battista is a small Romanesque building dated to the 11th century and located outside the town of Vespolate, along the old road to the village of Tornaco. Its appearance has changed over the centuries, but inside it still houses traces of an interesting fresco cycle, evidence of typical Novarese painting between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Why it is special
Opening must be arranged. But already the exterior, remodeled from the original structure, is particularly significant, with the apse part characterized by typical pairs of Romanesque hanging arches. Actually, the original church had a pievana function (so it was definitely important), had three naves, had a baptistery, and was surrounded by the cemetery. Even it is presumable that the church was built on a necropolis from an earlier period, according to some studies on the ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to the gods Jupiter and Diana. Archaeologically, terracotta artifacts, glass finds, Roman coins and metal fragments, indicative of a settlement, come from here.
Not to be missed
The walls show traces of frescoes depicting saints. They appear to date between the 14th and 15th centuries, but traces of 13th-century decoration suggest that the decorations date from the last phase of decorative campaigns that began as early as the 11th century. Particular is the 15th-century altarpiece, built of masonry and divided into two spaces by terracotta elements: in the tympanum is an Annunciation with a turreted castle, in the part below a Madonna seated on a throne, flanked by St. Maiolo (or St. Gaudentius), St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Francis of Assisi. .
A bit of history
The first certain record of the little church is dated 1024. In 1132 it is referred to as a parish, on which eleven chapels depended between lower Novarese and the Lomellina area of Vigevano. Sacraments were held here for all the inhabitants of these lands. In 1361 the parish suffered severe damage during the battles between Galeazzo II Visconti and Marquis John II of Monferrato. To defend himself, Galeazzo Visconti applied the technique of "scorched earth," setting fire to the entire village and completely destroying the baptistery. In the 15th century services were no longer held here, but decorative campaigns began, part of whose frescoes we still see today.
The parish church of San Giovanni has not only pictorial decorations, but also several popular engravings, on the interior walls and on the frescoes themselves. These engravings can be dated between the 17th century and the 20th century and for the most part were made by hermits who lived in a nearby dwelling. Some also give historical information or socio-cultural evidence, such as the entry of Don Peter of Toledo into Vercelli with the royal army in 1617, the stopping of the French in Mortara in 1656, the epidemic (referred to as "contagion") of 1721, or the strong storm of August 11, 1764.
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