Sunday, April 22, 2012

Inside the doors of Stignano’s church

Friday, April 20
Even some residents of Stignano have
not been inside the doors of this church,
but we are fortunate to have a private
Carlo has made connections with Stefano, the Stignano resident who has the keys to the Pieve di Sant’Andrea, and together Carlo and Stefano take us inside this ancient church which closed to the public  some years ago. Constructed between the late 10th century and early 11th, the church is in sad shape both inside and out. Stefano says some people have inquired about having weddings here, but that’s not possible in its current state of disrepair.

Frescoes on the walls were painted over with gray paint after World War I, and tiles were put on the floors that cover the Spadoni tomb and four others. A huge and ancient hand-powered pump organ has been damaged, probably vandalized. One 14th century fresco is showing through the flaking gray paint, and Carlo and Stefano agree that the quality and style show it could have been from an important early Renaissance school for Florentine artists. Some of the art is as good as the works in the Uffizi gallery in Firenze, they tell me. Not all of the paintings were covered by gray paint, and some of these have been cleaned or repainted.
Though built around 1200, some of the art is from the years of the Renaissance, around 1300 to 1400.

Carlo has also given me an article copied from an Italian magazine that mentions a curious mystery. It says that behind the ostensario (an ornate display vessel) is the bust of a man with long hair, a beard and a cape. We did not see this, but the author of the article speculates that this could be the head of Giustiano, the Roman emperor for whom Stignano might have derived its name.

On the floor of the presbytery, in front of the
niche for the patron saint, is the Spadoni tomb.
As for the Spadoni tomb, it is located under the pavement in the presbytery, right before the niche for the church’s patron saint. Other tombs, including one for the Guelfi family and others for some priests, are back where the congregation would be seated. The Spadoni tomb is placed in an unusually prestigious spot for contadini, and we wonder what the family did to merit this honor.

Carlo hopes that the people will become aware of the treasures of Sant’Andrea and apply pressure on the various governmental and church authorities to allocate funds for repairs and restoration. Private donations could also be used. However, at this point, restoration seems low on the list of priorities of both church and state.

Carlo straightens the curled corners of this sign posted
outside the church, which has information in English.
Maybe some unknown wealthy members of the Spadoni family will step forward to contribute, he says with a smile. However, he thinks that none of the hundred-plus Spadonis in this region even realize that they are descendants of the Stignano family. As for the American side, I can pretty much guarantee that prior to my recent family history research, no one even knew there was a Stignano (by the way, for any Americans reading this, it is pronounced steen-yah’-noh).
This restored Renaissance-era painting shows Mary enthroned with
Jesus, between Saint Andrew and John the Baptist. To the right is a
deteriorating older fresco, once covered with gray paint, that shows
Saint Andrew and another saint. 

Once outside the church again, Carlo points out another important building, an old inn that was used to host pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. Stignano was on the Via Francigena, a major route once used by thousands of pilgrims, mostly in the beginning of the 11th century.

That may seem surprising, because Stignano is not only small but also up on the hillside, where today there is no traffic except a narrow road leading straight up the hill from Borgo a Buggiano. However, in earlier times, the flat valleys below were swamps, and travelers had to traverse through the hills to make their way past here.

The quality craftsman-
ship of these wooden
trusses has held up for
nearly 1000 years.
This broken organ is more than 300
years old.
I’m sure there is still much more about this church that I don’t understand, because at times Carlo and Stefano are speaking too quickly for me to understand, but now it is time to go. Lucy and I have to pack, because we leave San Salvatore tomorrow afternoon, but I hope to discover more about this church in future years. Even more, I hope to see its restoration in my lifetime.
These two paintings on wood have been retouched to
restore color. The top one shows Mary and some
saints. The bottom depicts the slaughter of the innocents.

1 comment:

Comments welcome.