Passions & Places

Abbazia di Santa Maria in Castagnola

Abbazia Santa Maria in Castagnola

A paper-code of the library called sessoriana reads as follows: ”Teodolinda………edifico’ il monastero di Castagnola alla riva del fiume Esino detto da noi di Chiaravalle…in tempo di Gregorio I Papa” “Teodolinda…built the Castagnola Monastery on the shore of the river Esino that we call Chiaravalle…in times of Pope Gregory 1st”.

This valuable news informs us that in the 7th century, during the rule of the Longobard Queen Teodolinda a monastery was built in the Chiaravalle territory. The area was then covered in a thick scrub of oaks, and the monastery was to become the first Benedictine settlement in the territory of Chiaravalle. That first settlement would then develop into a Cistercian abbey.

In 1123 the famous Matilda of Canossa restored, or rather, she rebuilt the monastery’s church.
The abbey’s story is closely linked to the Cistercian settlement.
he abbey is a repetition of the celestial Jerusalem. Nothing must distract worshippers from their communication with the Divinity: the decorative essentiality and the semi-darkness favour the contact with God. However, the church S. Maria in Castagnola cannot be univocally brought to a single architectural style. The abbey inherited Romanesque elements, yet it also has elements of the Lombard Cistercian style, as well as Burgundian proto-Gothic elements. The result is a harmonic structure, in which harmony is not always determined by symmetry, but by details.

The church S. Maria in Castagnola is 54.75m. long, 19.35 m. wide and 15 m. high, it is completely built using bricks as Lombard churches were built. The main façade is a typical example of screen-façade; on a longitudinal body is a fronton-shaped wall with a hut structure.

On the median part of the fronton, in a marble frame, visitors may admire a wide sunburst rosette. The rosette seems derogation to the typical Bernardine design, and is probably due to a subsequent intervention (ca. 12th century). Then, Burgundian influences started to be felt, though toned down by the widespread Romanesque taste of many buildings in central Italy.

The structural design of the Castagnola church is composed of three naves. The central nave is larger than the lateral naves. The inlaying of red bricks and white plaster partially tends to reduce verticality and may be considered an element of the Lombard tradition, as the cube-shaped brick capitals of some pillars in the northern side. The interior of the church is enriched by a sculpture and pictorial heritage. 

It is certainly interesting, though not so much considered by those interested in arts. They are more fascinated by the architectural structure.

Describing the church S. Maria in Castagnola, it is possible to note that Burgundian elements (associating Chiaravalle with the Cistercian Gothic of Fossanova) coexist with Lombard features (associating the church with the church Chiaravalle in Milan). One has to agree with scholar Rosa Maria Albino, who defines the Abbey as the “most mature expression of the Cistercian architecture”.

© 2001 Liberation Ventures Ltd.

 | Map  |  Print  |