The Romanesque churches of Asti

POPULAR MASTERPIECES TO DISCOVER


One may seem a bit like Indiana Jones and a bit like Robert Langdon, the professor of symbology from the book “The Da Vinci Code”, when exploring the Romanesque churches across the Asti hills: small yet exemplary works of art that are at the core of popular devotion.


They can be perched on top of the hills. At times, they are hidden by the sudden and lush vegetation, only the top of the bell tower can be seen. Or, illuminated by a ray of sun, they appear like a vision: white tuff and red brick walls, doors embellished with mysterious symbols and bright, green meadows that grow, untamed, up to the entrance steps.

But above all, the Romanesque churches of the Asti area are a striking image of solitude. Enveloped by a sacred type of isolation that endows them with a timeless beauty: why were they built so far from inhabited towns? Who spent time in them?

The area surrounding Asti is studded with Romanesque churches. More precisely, countryside churches: small dwellings rising in the deep countryside. They were built approximately between the 11th and 14th centuries that have witnessed growth and economic development. After the end of the barbarian invasions and given the weight of a new demographic growth, people began to live in the territories outside the city walls. Woods were cut down, swamps were dried up and the hills were planted with wheat and vines. New communities, called Villanova or Villafranca, flourished everywhere: these are names that have remained up until the present day.

The original purpose of these churches can be seen in their name. Called “pieve” in Italian, from the Latin word plebs, this term refers to the «common people», or the “masses”: the poor inhabitants of the countryside. These churches were built near newly founded villages or along the roads that led to the fields. They were intended as a place of worship for the masses and, therefore, they had a more “popular” appearance. They were built with local materials (tuff, sandstone, terracotta), and decorated by sculptors and painters from the lower classes who used dense medieval symbolism. They must have appeared humbler and more modest compared to Romanesque masterpieces such as the cathedral of Asti, that of Chieri or the austere and perfect forms of the basilica of Sant’Andrea in Vercelli. But they were places teeming with fervent devotion, whose bells drew people from all the neighboring areas.

The disappearance of the villages following the plague of the 1300s, the long wars of the 1600s, and the migration from the countryside that characterized the 19th century gradually doomed these Romanesque churches to abandonment and oblivion.

Yet, today, after a millennium, the aura of these places is still intact. Traveling to discover the Romanesque churches of Asti brings forth special emotions: the amazement of reaching abandoned places that were once vital; the wonder of finding an enormous amount of artistic details that are still intact (capitals and decorated pillars, frescoes, statues and decorations of all kinds), directly from the hands of the countryside populations of the Middle Ages; the profound and primordial beauty of the places where they stand, on hilltops surrounded by lush vegetation, where the gaze roams over endless rows.


Historiated capital in the parish church of San Lorenzo, in Montiglio


ROMANESQUE CHURCHES TO SEE

If you are about to visit the Asti hills, be sure to not miss its Romanesque churches. Check out some of our favorites. In Cortazzone, San Secondo, perched on Mongiglietto hill, is a must-see: a Romanesque jewel with a typical salient façade and a marvelous interior of sculpted decorations. A few kilometers further north, in Montechiaro d’Asti, rises the church of San Nazario and Celso: completely isolated on the slopes of a green hill, San Nazario stands out for its high and square bell tower with alternating white (sandstone) and red stripes (brick), the same colors on the façade and the entrance. Visit Montiglio in the westernmost part of the Province of Asti. Here stands the solid church of San Lorenzo, with some of the most spectacular zoomorphic capitals in the area, decorated with animals and mythological figures.

San Nazario e Celso a Montechiaro d'Asti

PAIRINGS FOR YOUR JOURNEY

 

One may seem a bit like Indiana Jones and a bit like Robert Langdon, the professor of symbology from the book “The Da Vinci Code”, when exploring the Romanesque churches across the Asti hills: small yet exemplary works of art that are at the core of popular devotion.

They can be perched on top of the hills. At times, they are hidden by the sudden and lush vegetation, only the top of the bell tower can be seen. Or, illuminated by a ray of sun, they appear like a vision: white tuff and red brick walls, doors embellished with mysterious symbols and bright, green meadows that grow, untamed, up to the entrance steps.

But above all, the Romanesque churches of the Asti area are a striking image of solitude. Enveloped by a sacred type of isolation that endows them with a timeless beauty: why were they built so far from inhabited towns? Who spent time in them?

The area surrounding Asti is studded with Romanesque churches. More precisely, countryside churches: small dwellings rising in the deep countryside. They were built approximately between the 11th and 14th centuries that have witnessed growth and economic development. After the end of the barbarian invasions and given the weight of a new demographic growth, people began to live in the territories outside the city walls. Woods were cut down, swamps were dried up and the hills were planted with wheat and vines. New communities, called Villanova or Villafranca, flourished everywhere: these are names that have remained up until the present day.

The original purpose of these churches can be seen in their name. Called “pieve” in Italian, from the Latin word plebs, this term refers to the «common people», or the “masses”: the poor inhabitants of the countryside. These churches were built near newly founded villages or along the roads that led to the fields. They were intended as a place of worship for the masses and, therefore, they had a more “popular” appearance. They were built with local materials (tuff, sandstone, terracotta), and decorated by sculptors and painters from the lower classes who used dense medieval symbolism. They must have appeared humbler and more modest compared to Romanesque masterpieces such as the cathedral of Asti, that of Chieri or the austere and perfect forms of the basilica of Sant’Andrea in Vercelli. But they were places teeming with fervent devotion, whose bells drew people from all the neighboring areas.

The disappearance of the villages following the plague of the 1300s, the long wars of the 1600s, and the migration from the countryside that characterized the 19th century gradually doomed these Romanesque churches to abandonment and oblivion.

Yet, today, after a millennium, the aura of these places is still intact. Traveling to discover the Romanesque churches of Asti brings forth special emotions: the amazement of reaching abandoned places that were once vital; the wonder of finding an enormous amount of artistic details that are still intact (capitals and decorated pillars, frescoes, statues and decorations of all kinds), directly from the hands of the countryside populations of the Middle Ages; the profound and primordial beauty of the places where they stand, on hilltops surrounded by lush vegetation, where the gaze roams over endless rows.

ROMANESQUE CHURCHES TO SEE

If you are about to visit the Asti hills, be sure to not miss its Romanesque churches. Check out some of our favorites. In Cortazzone, San Secondo, perched on Mongiglietto hill, is a must-see: a Romanesque jewel with a typical salient façade and a marvelous interior of sculpted decorations. A few kilometers further north, in Montechiaro d’Asti, rises the church of San Nazario and Celso: completely isolated on the slopes of a green hill, San Nazario stands out for its high and square bell tower with alternating white (sandstone) and red stripes (brick), the same colors on the façade and the entrance. Visit Montiglio in the westernmost part of the Province of Asti. Here stands the solid church of San Lorenzo, with some of the most spectacular zoomorphic capitals in the area, decorated with animals and mythological figures.

PAIRINGS FOR YOUR JOURNEY

Along your journey to discover these Romanesque churches, we recommend that you taste a native wine: it has a popular soul but boasts exquisite craftsmanship. We recommend our Dolcetto d’Asti Doc, an authentic expression of the Asti hills. A wine that was (and still is) always on the tables of true Piedmont locals: easy to pair and extremely pleasant. Dolcetto d’Asti Doc Duchessa Lia is fresh, fragrant and intense, with a slightly almondy finish that always entices for another sip.


DISCOVER OUR DOLCETTO D'ASTI DOC
AND ITS PAIRINGS


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