ORA ET LABORA – Rules and misdeeds at the Abbey of Saint Benedict in Polirone
“Now we have written this Rule in order that by its observance in
monasteries we may show that we have attained some degree of
virtue and the rudiments of the religious life.”
Rule of Benedict – On the Fact That the Full Observance of
Justice Is Not Established in This Rule
There was a time, when what we know as Europe was a crucible of forces struggling to overcome one another and people used to live in small communities, devotion was an important value in life.
The rivers of Po and Lirone were able to flow among the land with more ease, and all their branches cut the landscapes, creating something similar to islands. Everyone who come across these paths could see ships and even a fleet pass by as well as admire the Romans’ remains sucked by the earth because of the frequent floods. In this area, between fog and restricted tillable spaces, the abbey of Saint Benedict was built, upon the will of count Tedaldo di Canossa.
Founded in 1007 with the donation to benedictine monks, near the middle of the century the basilica was erected again and the church of S. Maria was added. Astonishing was that the count managed to choose the local Abbot, despite of being it the opposite expected by the Rule of Benedict. A very important step was the meeting in 1077 between the emperor Henry IV and the Pope Gregorio VII. Indeed during this event Matilde di Canossa, grandchild of Tedaldo, donates the abbey to the Pope, who put it under the management of Cluny’s abbot, Ugo. As a consequence, the whole complex turned to follow the renovation carried out by the French order, also bringing architectural modifications and becoming a powerful cultural centre. The fight for investiture was engaged in the north of Italy also thanks to the presence of this structure. The complaints of Martin Luther during his stay in the abbey, regarding the richness exposed, let’s us imagine that in the spiritual connotation of Cluny there was a pretty unusual compound with a monastic order.
Although I previously knew the nature of medieval architecture, It’s always impressive to visit such types of constructions, because they allow me to realize how autonomous they were, provided with all the resources and a intern organization where each monk had a specific role. The most representative area is undoubtedly the cloister, which put the various spaces in communication and itself was seat of meditation, lectures, conversations and delivery tasks. An interesting issue of the place is the eclecticism which come to be throughout the centuries, as the XI base of the complex keeps the core elements, the Romanesque church of S. Maria and the surface of the whole abbey was renovated following the XVI century taste, as requested by the abbot Gerolamo Cortese and executed by the best artist and architect present on that period in Mantua, Giulio Romano. Furthermore there is a library in a neoclassical style dated back to 1790 and a museum set up in the dismissed space of the refectory. A jump into time and space, I would say.
But the highlights of the abbey were due to end, because during the XVII and XVIII centuries it was subject to continuous floods and pillages, leading to a finishing blow the suppression in 1797 caused by the coming of Napoleon’s army. It has been tested by the earthquake in May 2012, nevertheless nowadays is still possible to admire and visit it, along with the masterpieces remained: the Last supper of Girolamo Bonsignori, the fresco painted by Correggio and the impressive figures created by Antonio Begarelli, a terracotta sculptor native of Modena, to whom Vasari quotes Michelangelo’s comment “if this earth should turn to marble, antique statuary beware!”
Gallery’s images – Courtesy of Paolo Golinelli, Paolo Piva, L’abbazia di San Benedetto Po: Storie di acque, di pietre, di uomini, 1997.
Paolo Golinelli, Paolo Piva, L’abbazia di San Benedetto Po: Storie di acque, di pietre, di uomini, Cierre Edizioni, Verona 1997.
Paolo Piva, Da Cluny a Polirone: un recupero essenziale del romanico europeo, San Benedetto Po 1980. Giorgio Vasari, Le vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, Newton Compton Editori, Roma 2012.
Rule of Benedict, Chapter 73, line 1. Web site of S. Benedetto Po Tourism Office: http://www.turismosanbenedettopo.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=280:monastero-e-basilica-di-polironec&catid=79&Itemid=444
Official web site of Saint Benedict and Simeon’s basilica: http://basilicasanbenedettopo.blogspot.it/p/la-basilica_14.html
Web site upon The Rule of Saint Benedict: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/toc.html
Side decoration – Courtesy of Pinterest Corner decoration – Courtesy of Brighthub.com
Mantua and Sabbioneta – Italy