|Romanesque architecture in the mountains|
The Romanesque churches which have survived in the Modena Apennines do not have their own strong architectural personality but spring from the coming together of local experience and the highly skilled Lombard masters. Visiting them is rather like a treasure hunt, since they are often well off any modern beaten track, and in some cases it takes a trained eye to appreciate the authentically Romanesque features which have survived later reworkings.
A short detour from the main road along the Panaro valley brings us to Denzano, where we find the Romanesque apse of the church of S. Maria Assunta still intact. Here the regular, squared stones are used to form the typical motif of hanging arches enclosed in pairs of larger blind arches; in this case, this familiar decorative element of Romanesque architecture has a special feature, since the arches finish in small shelves that seem to support human-like heads.
This "pieve" (the word means a mother church) was founded in the IX Century, making it one of the most ancient sacred buildings in the Modena Apennines. However, it has been reworked a great deal over the centuries; for example, as its unnaturally clean appearance leads one to suspect, the facade was reconstructed at the beginning of this century, subdivided into three parts by lesenes and decorated with hanging arches to imitate the Romanesque style. The sculpted sarcophagus above the main door is an unusual feature. The nearby baptistery was also built in the early 1900s, using the remains of the old facade, so it is a fake but made from original materials. Very fine details of a quality rare outside Modena itself can be found in the capitals, which probably date from before the year one thousand, and in the decoration of the archivolt of a door on the South side. The lectern in "pietra dell'ambone", which shows John the Apostle, is also original.
This, the mother church to over 30 others during the XV Century, stands a few kilometres from the via Giardini between Pavullo and Lama Macogno. It is of extremely ancient origin, dated to the IX Century, and is rough but impressive and austere in appearance. The very compact, undecorated facade now includes the main door and three large windows opened in 1722. Inside, two wheel-shaped monograms of Christ are sculpted on one of the octagonal pillars.
On the apse, the only part of the original XIII Century building remaining, two rows of animals, seen from the front and the side in alternation, face each other under the hanging arches.
Also a short distance from the via Giardini, this time below Serramazzoni, this ancient church (VIII-IX Century) has also undergone considerable restoration on its facade and in the upper part; the tower has been completely rebuilt. The interior is unusual, divided into a central nave and two side aisles resting on short, sturdy columns topped by capitals with floral decorations that are certainly the church's most interesting, authentic features; the stylised leaves are interwoven with plaits, coils and six-pointed stars with constant inventiveness.
On the basilica plan, this church has a central nave and two side aisles, ending in three apses. While many of the original decorations on the outside have been replaced, most of the capitals inside can be dated between the IX and early X Centuries (one, showing two lions attacking each other with their teeth, symbolises the battle between good and evil). The apses feature the recurrent Lombard motif of hanging arches, containing a number of symbolic figures. The facade was completely reconstructed during restoration work in the last century which moved it one arch further back.
What can now been seen on the top of Monte S. Giulia, in the Parco della Resistenza, is only a reconstruction of the church which used to stand there until the German bombardment of 8 January 1945. The bell-tower has disappeared but the apses have been rebuilt, while the plain facade had already been reworked in 1780. Just some of the outer walls and the central apse and, inside, a few capitals and column bases, remain of the original church, an important foundation with authority over many surrounding churches in the XII Century.
Founded in 1071 by Beatrice of Lorraine, Marquess of Tuscany, the Abbey stood on a very important route from the Po Valley to Tuscany. In the XV Century a landslide ruined the abbey and the adjoining Benedictine monastery, which was not rebuilt. Today's church is the result of rebuilding work, with a few traces of the richness of the original building in the form of a pink marble column or a white marble sculpted capital amongst the grey of the sandstone. Lions and griffins from the Medieval bestiaries appear in some capitals and in a bas relief on an inside wall.
In a panoramic position some distance from either Fiumalbo or the nearer town of Pievepelago, this church has been reworked several times over the centuries. All that remains from the Romanesque period is the small apse with characteristic slit windows, topped by a cornice with sober decoration.
This building, not far from Sestola, has a plain facade only interrupted by the main doorway, with six archivolts. Two of these and the architrave are decorated with vines, a Christian symbol referring to the "Lord's Vineyard", also found on the doorway on the South side, with a series of three concentric rings symbolising the Trinity.
Restoration work in the XVII Century has spared only the apse, with a cornice of hanging arches, with a lion in the centre recalling the animal figures at Monte Obizzo. The church is built on a rock outcrop at the end of the village square, to which its apse provides an attractive backdrop.
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