THE ABBEY CHURCH OF NONANTOLA AND ITS GREAT MONASTIC CENTRE
The Abbey was founded in 752 by Saint Anselm, Benedictine monk, brother-in-law with Aistulf, Longboard King. During the Middle Ages, it became one of the most important monasteries in Europe.
THE FAÇADE AND THE ROMANESQUE PORTAL: THE ORIGIN OF THIS PLACE
The façade of the church, rebuilt at the beginning of the twentieth century, shows a sloping roof remarkable for the elevation of the central nave; whereas the ornamental arches and the corbels, that follow the line of the roof and run across the three naves horizontally, recall the Romanesque architectural structure which the lapse of time and historical events have erased. The beautiful portal is decorated with two iconographic cycles: on the left, the crucial moments in the sacred history of the abbey of Nonantola and on the right the Nativity of Christ. The lunette , a noteworthy example of fine Romanesque sculpture, has been attributed to Wiligelmo, the great artist of the Duomo in Modena and to his school which flourished at the end of the XI century. It contains an enthroned Christ figure, flanked by two angels and the symbols of the four Evangelists.
INSIDE THE BASILICA: A PLACE FOR MEDITATION AND PRAYER
Inside the basilica presents a three-partite structure with a central nave and two lateral aisles separated by two rows of columns typical of Romanesque churches and the allure of a softly-lighted atmosphere that invites visitors to meditation and prayer. To the left of the entrance you can admire an octagonal baptistery . The inside of the baptismal font has been obtained by re-utilizing a Roman fountain, set on a column, which has been re-utilized as well. Along the left aisle there is the monumental sepulcher of the Bishop Natale Bruni, built by the sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi (1879-1942) and the statue of Saint Bernand of Clairvaux (XVII cent.). Along the right aisle, of enormous interest is the fresco ascribed to the school of the Erri (XV cent.). It is composed of three levels: on top there is a Crucifixion, in the middle there is an Annunciation, at the bottom a line of seven Saints (Martin, Gregory the Great, John the Evangelist, James, Sylvester pope, Anthony abbot and George). There is another fresco with Madonna with Child. The central nave ends with the elevated presbytery which is reached by going up a large central stairway and two smaller side stairs. Up the stairs, you can notice the organ on the right, a work of Domenico Traeri (1743). The main altar is dedicated to the patron saint of the abbey, Saint Sylvester I pope and inside its vault rest his remains. It is the work of the sculptor Silla de’ Longhi, who carried it out from 1568 to 1572, decorating it with eight white Carrara marble slabs that narrate the story of the life of the Saint.
THE CRYPT: A FOREST OF STONE
Sixty-four are the columns that fill, like the trees of a forest, the crypt, one of the largest Romanesque churches in Italy . Interred in the sixteenth century, because of frequent infiltrations of water, it has been restored to its present spendour by the renovation begun in 1913. Today it is the most evocative part of the whole abbey. The elegant, slim columns support brick arches, while the visitor’s attention is attrached to the more antique capitals, with different forms and structure. In the main altar are preserved the relics of the Saints venerated in Nonantola: Saint Anselm, Saint Hadrian III, the martyr Saints Senesius and Theopompus, and the virgin Saints Anseride and Fosca.
Going to the abbatial garden, we can visit the three original apses of the Benedictine abbey . Built with red bricks, their surface is modulated by elegant corbels underneath the roof and as markers at floor level and it is subdivided by wider, full arches (3 in the lateral apses and 5 in the central apse) supported by pilaster strips to the foundations. Quite noteworthy is the fluting decoration of the minor apses as well as the mullioned windows above in the presbytery and below in the crypt.