Vezzolano Abbey

A MASTERPIECE OF MEDIEVAL PIEDMONT

 


To reach Vezzolano Abbey, one must leave some certainties behind.


The vineyards around Asti, which dominated the landscape, suddenly disappear, leaving room for wooded hills and yellow and green valley floors of wheat and fallow. Cities and towns become more distant, opening up to an increasingly wild countryside. There also seem to be lesser roads: they flow into the hills towards who knows where, leaving travelers feeling lost, as if the hilltops were suddenly out of reach.

Reaching Vezzolano Abbey means going back in time. It means coming to the oldest part of Monferrato, a place less traveled, with little traces of man. Just like during the Middle Ages, it is a place where civilization revolved around bell towers or, more rarely, under the castle walls, which have austere forms and imposing crenellated towers in this part of Asti

We are in the northwestern part of the Province of Asti, at the top of an ideal triangle whose base is located between Asti and Chieri. After a few kilometers, the last hilly ridges overlook the Po River: this is one of the largest wooded areas in southern Piedmont, a place where, as recent surveys show, forests are gaining ground at the expense of cultivated fields.

This immensity is something foreign to those who come from the Langhe hills, Turin or even just from Asti. Here, vineyards are a rarity: lone plots climb on steep hills and are mainly cultivated with Grignolino, Barbera and Freisa, the latter grown near Chieri.

Country lands teeming with faith. Castelnuovo d’Asti (today known as Castelnuovo Don Bosco) is the birthplace of St. Joseph Cafasso, Blessed Giuseppe Allamano and St. John Bosco, the “Don” after which the place was later named. Lands of marvelous country churches and grand abbeys, just like Vezzolano, an unrivaled masterpiece of Romanesque Piedmont.


The incredible frescoed interiors


THE ANCIENT ABBEY

Vezzolano Abbey was so famous and prestigious that the date of its construction has been lost in time. Some say that Charlemagne ordered for it to be built in 773 after having an otherworldly vision during a hunting trip in the surrounding area. Some documents suggest a more recent history, but not by much. We must go back to 1095, when clergymen Teodulo and Egidio founded a religious community around the church of Santa Maria, on the hills of Albugnano: this is probably the foundation of the future abbey, still dedicated to the Virgin today.

Its marvelous form, presenting the typical alternation of white sandstone and red brick, date back to the 12th century. The church’s plan is similar to a basilica with three naves; however, the one on the right was closed and transformed into the outer wall of the cloister. The Gothic interiors of the church reveal a striking beauty. The central nave is divided by a rood screen supported by small columns, called jubè. This is a very rare architectural feature, implemented between the 12th and 13th centuries, that is similar to the Orthodox iconostasis, the furthest area of the church that was reserved for the Eucharist, the most sacred space, exclusively accessible to priests. Above the jubè stands an incredible 13th-century bas-relief depicting the Patriarchs and the Stories of the Holy Virgin. On the sides of the central window of the apse is another surprising product of early Medieval times: a polychrome sculpture (colored) from 1100 representing the Annunciation.

All the capitals and window decorations are richly adorned, revealing the simple and somber forms of Romanesque art, infused with an authentic and virtuous faith. The same faith runs throughout the Vezzolano Abbey and its surroundings, immersed in a peace so profound that it is not hard to believe it inspired meditation and prayer.


Detail of the Jubè of the Vezzolano Abbey


THE WINES OF THE AREA

Among the great wines of north-western Asti are Grignolino and Freisa d’Asti, obtained from the vines of the same name. Grignolino is a very particular variety: it is difficult to grow and requires continuous attention in the vineyard. The wines present a pale red color, but don't be fooled: they have an excellent tannic structure!

Just like Grignolino d’Asti Duchessa Lia: young and bright, its marked yet delicate tannins make it a perfect pair to traditional Piedmont dishes such as cold cuts, medium and long-aged cheeses, as well as fried food. Grignolino boasts a particular freshness that makes it a match for fish (give it a try!).


DISCOVER OUR GRIGNOLINO D'ASTI DOC
AND ITS PAIRINGS


Freisa d’Asti Duchessa Lia, on the other hand, is pleasant and aromatic. Releasing notes of rose and raspberry and endowed with a soft body, it perfectly pairs with red meat as well as fruit and sorbets, served at the end of a meal.

DISCOVER OUR FREISA D'ASTI DOC AND ITS PAIRINGS


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