In 1095 some noblemen gave an old church of Saint Mary to two priests called Theodulus and Egidius so that they could found a religious community. No trace is left of the original building. However, a later document proves that the two founders followed the Rule of Saint Augustine. The original community was not a proper monastery but a community of Canons regular, priests following the monastic rule of the Bishop of Ippona.
Originally the community was closely linked to the families belonging to the de Radicata consortium, whose power extended from the area of San Sebastiano da Po to the hills around Vezzolano.
The building of the present church started in the second half of the 12th century under the supervision of the Rector or praepositus called Guido who is remembered with an inscription on the screen. The building was finished at the beginning of the following century. The cloister as well as the rest of the complex was finished later on. Several interventions on the building were completed over time.
The grandeur of Vezzolano is to be found at the end of the 13th century. Decline followed. In the 15th century the church is formally entrusted to a notable entitled to the church and its income but who does not reside in the community. In the 17th century bishops visiting the area complain about the decline of the church where no active community lives. In 1631 the area of Albugnano passes from the family of Monferrato to the Dukes of Savoy. As no document was available to tell the story of the church, people started to call it erroneously “abbey”, the name with which it is still called today.
In the Napoleonic Era the institution is terminated and all valuables become property of the Government with the view of selling them on to private citizens. However, the church is not sold. It is declared State Property and is managed by the Parish of Albugnano. Thanks to this decision important artwork was saved. The land, the other buildings and the cloister were sold to private citizens.
In 1927 the last owner died and left the Vezzolano estate to the Agricolture Academy In Turin. Later on the cloister and the buildings nearby became property of the Government and an important restoration activity was started (1935-1937) for the recovery of the building and of the frescoes whose conditions were very poor because of neglect and water leaks. Further restoration work was carried out on the roof (1986), the front (1989-1990), the screen (1996-1997), the frescoes (2002). The scientific and modern techniques used for the restoration allowed experts to gather important information on the history of the building and on the methods used for the original masonry, stonework and paintwork.
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The front of the church in Vezzolano is the result of various building stages which gave it its final look according to the principles of Romanesque architecture from the 12th and 13th century. It Is divided into three large bodies separated by pillars corresponding to the three naves inside the church.
The portal is at the centre and it is supported by semi-round and square semicolumns. Gilded capitals decorated with vegetation patterns and fantastic animals support the arch where we can see Mary on the Throne with the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove.
Above the arch there are three rows of small blind loggias supported by columns. The highest row s finished with a series of small arches whose colour is red terracotta and lighter sandstone.
The image of the Blessing Christ can be seen in the large mullioned window. The archangel Raphael is on the left and the archangel Michael is on the right. Both Angels tread on monsters representing evil defeated by good.
Above this window two angels carry candles. Three large ceramic bowls of Middle Eastern origin were mounted on the front of the church as if they were precious stones.
Further above two images of angels can be seen which combine the features of cherubs (usually associated with the wheels of fire of the chariot of God) and seraphs (with six wings). Unfortunately the heads of the angels disappeared long ago. As for the wings, two are folded on themselves whereas the others were painted on stone slabs behind them.
On top a damaged image represents God the Father.
On the left a portal can be seen with a lunette where the original image can no longer be identified. The stone portal on the right was never completed because, when the right hand-side nave was closed, it was used only to access a small chapel. Entrances were bricked up later on.
English version: Cristina Mottura
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