Church of S. Secondo - Località Mongiglietto
Church built in the twelfth century.
It stands on the hill of Mongiglietto (241 meters above sea level), about 1 km from the town of Cortazzone.
It was the parish church of the village until the seventeenth century, when the inhabitants decided to move on a nearby hill.
Fascinating are the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic sculptures visible on the façade and the symbolism reproduced on capitals and columns that could allude to the location of the church on an ancient place of pagan worship.
It is one of the most appreciable examples of Romanesque in Monferrato and a national monument since 1880.
• Deepening by the architect Quaglia don Alessandro (Directorate Section Dioc.)
The part of the Province of Asti to the north of the Tanaro is dotted with numerous medieval architectural evidences, mainly found in religious buildings.
Once these churches were pievanie or simple parish churches with around the cemetery. For some time some inhabited centers have moved on to another hill and the old churches have almost always remained in the center of the cemetery to continue their function of invitation to live prayer in union with that of their “old” now living in the Lord.
This is the church of S. Secondo di Cortazzone, even if the ancient cemetery, which was around it, no longer exists.
In the Asti region, it is the most interesting already parish church of medieval construction, with the façade rendered characteristic by the seventeenth-century additions.
It is a small ornate casket containing the typical medieval sculptures, found on the route of the Francigena streets.
• The environment
The Romanesque church of S. Secondo rises on the hill of Mongiglietto, at 241 meters above sea level and about one km from the town of Cortazzone.
You can see it after a bend to the left, at the bottom of a vast grassy open space, inserted almost majestically in the landscape, in the middle of a magnificent crown of green hills, oriented East-West.
Mongiglietto, probably from the Latin Mons Jovis: mountain of Jupiter, as a locality of a preexisting pagan temple; or Mons Jubili, mountain of joy; Mont-joie - mongioia! - In ancient French, a pile of stones to indicate the way or in memory of important facts.
• The building
Basilica plan with three naves; each one with a semicircular apse, is built with materials of local origin. The masonry is mainly made of blocks of exposed stone, with the insertion of rows of bricks.
It has external measures of 19.50 meters in length and 8.60 meters in width; height at the top of the roof 8.25 meters. The interior has a length of 18 meters and a width of 7.25 meters.
• The facade
The masonry is mostly in blocks of stone, then rises in the central part with a brick wall, at the top of which there is a small bell tower, built in the seventeenth century and equipped with a bell to attract the faithful.
Entrance has a double stone arch, bordered above by a horizontal frame of shells, which would indicate S. Secondo as a church on the way of great pilgrimages.
Walnut door, dating back to the middle of the 19th century, was restored in 1992.
Agile semi-columns divide the side parts of the façade and continue, alternating with semi-pilaster strips, around the perimeter, dividing the building into differently spaced backgrounds.
On the capitals are set the arches that are the crowning of the masonry. Underneath some arches, on the sides of the frame of shells and in the center of the stone arch, we can admire the first zoomorphic and anthropomorphic sculptures.
The window with grating was opened in the non-dating period.
The entrance has a double stone arch, bordered above by a horizontal frame of shells, which would indicate S. Secondo as a church on the way of great pilgrimages.
• North side
It is rather unadorned, except for the hanging arches of the crown.
In the raised part of the central nave there are three single windows, two are closed from the inside, with scarce decorative elements.
• The apses
The apse area is rich in geometric elements in the crowning, especially that of the central apse and the south apsidiola, with the high decorative bands, the leaves sculptures of the capitals on the semi-columns and rectangular pilasters, the variety of shelves on which they rest the hanging arches.
Interesting sculptures also in the intrados of the arches.
Among these is a human figure in the act of holding on to one of them.
The side apses each have a single window while the central one has three; the one facing East preserves part of the original cotto grating.
In the lower part all three apses have a terracotta "wolf teeth" band, which continues for a while in the masonry of the South wall.
• South side
This side deserves particular attention due to the richness of the sculptural decoration, above all in the upper part of the central nave with the high weaving band, friezes, leaves and vines now interrupted and now taken up again; and then figures, carved capitals, creases that crown the three beautiful mullioned windows.
In the lower part the crowning of “damier”, still capitals and arches carved with foliage, a cross, human heads, animals and the beautiful eagle in a square frame above a pillar, and more in an inexhaustible fantasy.
In the middle of the side, a door from which one can enter inside, coeval of the front door, also in walnut, restored in 1992.
Overlooking the door is a lunette and an arch, in turn framed by “sawtooth” bricks. Two single windows and an oculus give light to the lower part of the building.
In the third part of the upper part, above the arches, a singular sculpture that, according to the study of Piero Leonardi (1984), in its primitiveness intends to refer to a scene of mating, something not common in the ornament of a church, and would find explanation in local prehistoric traditions.
Some interpret the incision and other signs of fertility such as breasts, propitiators for the birth of children and the abundance of milk to feed them, or as an ex voto in the case of difficult birth.
• The interior
The austere interior with three naves is divided into five spans by alternating columns and pillars, with carved capitals on which the arches are set.
The vaults of sail, “in place of the ruined slabs, with arches distributed according to the old arches”, the terracotta floor tiles, raised in the presbytery by three steps, the modifications to the masonry altar with the side arches, are of half of the last century, as is clear from the “calculation report, for the urgent repair to be done around the very ancient building of the Church of S. Secondo placed on the ends of Cortazone”. Appraisal made by the Master Mason Giovanni Gobbi of “Cortazone”, July 14, 1843, which was followed by a report on the execution of the work, the expert Giovanni Santanera di Villafranca, of February 24, 1853 (parish arch).
The three apses have semi-fold vaults. In the central one, underlined by a “damier” frame, there is a fresco from the 14th century.
• The capitals
For the particular sculptural decoration, the capitals on the columns and on the pillars, deserve to be examined one by one, even if the symbolism of the subjects is not easy to interpret. The symbols could be allusive to vices and virtues and wanted to induce the pilgrim to settle inwardly.
• The mermaid; symbol of the charm and ambiguity of temptation. The circle: a symbol of perfection and of eternity. The hare: negative, refers to its great sensuality that leads to an extreme fruitfulness; positively, the speed of its travel could allude to the brevity of human life, etc.
• Pillar - It has rounded corners and the capital is sculpted on three sides. At the center two birds that peck seem to have only one head. On the side a large flower, on the opposite side, a cross.
• Column - the capital has four sirens as a corner figure, which develops on all four sides, with arms and a broken down tail, stretched upwards. (Romanic mermaid or fish woman with tail in both hands - H. Focillon).
• Pillar - on opposite sides, two semi-columns and two pillars.
The capital is completely surrounded by large petals, sometimes interpreted as “inverted ovules” or petals of chrysanthemum, symbol of infinity.
• Column - next to the presbytery steps. It has a square capital without sculptures.
This capital, like the other two on the semi columns on the side of the altar, can also be considered incomplete on purpose, as a sign and warning of not human perfection, a perfection that is only of God.
Above the side door a peacock in round shape.
• Column - on the other side of the nave, capital with shells and decorative scrolls.
• Pillar - It has thin columns in brick that round the corners. The capital presents, in apparent disorder, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures.
On the side facing the altar, the siren with the tail divided into an arc “held with both hands”. It has well-marked hair, tail and fins; on the sides of the head, two flowers. On the opposite side, evidently incomplete, appears a kind of monster with two heads, the front legs resting on a human head, which seems to be the capital of the corner column.
One head bites its tail and the other, crinkled, turns towards the corner to form the great head of a harnessed horse, which crosses its tail with that of a twin horse that turns its head to the opposite corner. At the bottom a cow-head pointing upwards, biting a horse's leg. On the fourth side, almost to lighten the whole, flowers and foliage.
• Column - At the corners of the capital, a single head for the body of two birds, which develop on the facades with crossed tails.
Above the heads of the birds: anthropomorphic figures; next to one of these, a right hand.
• Pillar with rounded corners. On two sides of the capital, a large hare (or rabbit), two fishes on the other side, a flower and palm branches on the fourth side.
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