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Saint Mary's Abbey Vezzolano - Albugnano


  Piedmont’s most important Romanesque complex is to be found amongst the rolling hills and vineyards which surround Asti: this is the abbey of Vezzolano. According to a legend it was founded in 773 Charlemagne who had suffered an epileptic fit while hunting near Albugnano; when he recovered, he ordered an abbey to be built in honour of the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages, Vezzolano was powerful and wealthy. Today, it is the Romanesque site which attracts most visitors. On arrival, the Abbey is not immediately visible, and comes as something of a surprise at the end of the path which leads to it through the peaceful green countryside. The sombre bell-tower rises elegantly to the left of the main building in true Romanesque tradition. The facade, decorated with capitals and statues, has a beautiful doorway with bas-reliefs. A little further on is the narthex, the typical portico which closes the nave. It is light blue in colour and looks as if it has been enamelled. It is, however, painted on polished limestone. The cloisters can be reached from the church through a small door, and here the visitor finds architectural elements of differing eras as well as frescoes of the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries magnificently preserved through the years.


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    History

    • Saint Mary's Abbey Vezzolano - Albugnano   Its origins are a mixture of local legend and solid historical fact. It is likely that some kind of church already existed in the 8th century, probably of a different nature or else annexed as private chapel to a castle which was later destroyed. Legend narrates that it was founded by Charlemagne himself who, in 774, while out hunting in the woods around nearby Albugnano, suffered an attack of regal epilepsy and had a horrible vision of dancing human skeletons. Cured by the divine intervention of the Madonna, he was inspired to build the Abbey. In fact, its foundation can be dated to 27th February 1095. Subsequent building proceeded fitfully throughout the second half of the 12th century and the first of the following one, leading to a mixture of Romanesque and early Gothic styles.
       
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    Architecture and Furniture

    • Saint Mary's Abbey Vezzolano - Albugnano   The main apse of the church is east-facing and originally possessed a basilica-type design - that is, with three naves - subsequently modified in the 13th century, when the right-sided nave was transformed into the north side of the cloister. The original Romanesque facade is still to be seen, built of terracotta and sandstone, with three rows of blind arches in the Lombard style of the 12th century, re-worked during the 13th century. It also contains columns and statues of Christ the Redeemer with St Michael and St Raphael together with two seraphim or cherubim, and is decorated terracotta plates.
       
      At its centre is the splayed portal, decorated with carvings: the lunette contains a bas-relief of the Virgin enthroned accompanied by a dove representing the Holy Spirit; the Archangel Gabriel and a worshipper; on the left, there is another bas-relief depicting St Ambrose. The portal is topped with three blind galleries supported by columns.
       
      On the Abbey’s left side stands the robust Romanesque bell tower, decorated with entwined arches. Within the Abbey, there are two naves with apses, the third and right-sided nave having been incorporated into the cloister. The naves are divided by columns supporting pointed arches and crossed vaulting. The central nave contains, at the level of the third arch-span, one of the Abbey’s most interesting features: the narthex, or ‘jubé’ in French, supported by five ogee arches on columns decorated with capitals depicting leaves and buds. On top of this is a bas-relief in two parts depicting, in its lower area, the Virgin’s 35 ancestors and, on the upper part, the deposition of Maria’s body, her assumption and triumphant arrival in paradise together with the symbols of the Evangelists. The bas-relief is blue in colour and appears to have been enamelled; at its foot there is an inscription informing that the work was finished ‘during the reign of Federico Barbarossa, 1189’.
       
      On the altar there is a 15th century painted terracotta triptych in Gothic style featuring the Virgin with child with St Augustine on her right. On her left is a monk accompanying a worshipper dressed in regal clothing: tradition held him to be Charlemagne, although recent studies have indicated that he is likely to be Charles VIII of France.
       
      At the end of the right-hand nave a door leads to the cloisters: small but decorated with what remains of 13th to 14th century frescoes and delightful capitals carved with classical and other motifs. Within the cloisters’ arcade, on the north-facing side, is Vezzolano’s most important fresco, dating from the 14th century. This depicts the Redeemer with symbols of the Evangelists in the upper part; Bethlehem with the holy family and the adoring Magi, and, at the centre of the lower section, an open sepulchre with three skeletons emerging from it observed by a fourth, horrified, figure - who could be Charlemagne - and two amazed knights. A monk invites the Charlemagne figure to plead the Madonna for help. The cloisters contain architectural elements from three different eras: the north side and the first archway of the east side were built together with the church; the west side is the most ancient, and the south side and part of the east side were built around 1630.
       
      The Abbey’s lodge contains a permanent exhibition of the Romanesque style sponsored by Piedmont’s Commission for Fine Arts.
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    Regular guided visits

    •   Guided visits available for groups on demand

Object

Strada dell'Abbazia
14022 Albugnano
Italy
+39 011 9920607
E-mail

Tourist Information:

La Cabalesta - V. Cafasso 29/b
14022 Castelnuovo don Bosco

0039 011.9872463
E-mail


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Opening Hours:

Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 12.30 pm and from 2 pm to 6.30 pm (summer);
9 am to 12 30 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm (winter).


Saint Mary's Abbey Vezzolano - Albugnano

Saint Mary's Abbey Vezzolano - Albugnano