Tuesday, 21 February 2012 16:00

Abbey of Nonantola

Written by  matta
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The Abbey was founded in 752 by the Benedictine abbot Anselm, former Lombard Duke of Friuli. Anselm, with the help of the local population, decided to build the church and monastery after having received the territory of Nonantola as a gift from King Astolfo, his cousin. In 756, just after its consecration by the Bishop of Reggio Emilia and of the Metropolitan of Ravenna, the abbey acquired the remains of Pope Sylvester, to whom, along with the Apostles Peter and Paul, the church is dedicated. Thanks to the favor of the Lombard sovereigns, the successive Frankish conquerors, and the strategic administration of the various abbots, the Abbey of Nonantola acquired an undisputed political prestige. Major reconstructions took place after an invasion in 889, and after an earthquake in 1117. Work began in 1121 on the Romanesque church we see today.

The exterior features of the church, fruit of the reconstruction following the 1117 earthquake, revisit those of the Cathedral of the nearby city of Modena, where work began in 1099. The gabled façade articulates the elevated height of the nave with respect to the aisles. This interior differentiation is also reflected by the two large semi-columns that articulate the three distinct sections, each defined in turn by pilaster strips and corbel tables. The portal is attributed to the same workshops of Wiligelmo that completed the first portals of the Duomo of Modena, and it repeats many of their features: a porch on two columns with foliated capitals supported by lion pedestals, with a figural portal. The jamb sculptures include the stories of Christ’s infancy on the right, and on the left, the foundation of the Abbey. In the lunette is Christ as judge between two angels and the symbols of the Evangelists.

Strong quatrefoil piers divide the three-aisled space, which arrives at an elevated presbytery. The high altar is composed of the ark of Saint Sylvester, whose eight panels contain episodes from the life of the saint, completed between 1568 and 1572 by the sculptor Jacopo Silla de’ Longhi. Beneath the choir is the crypt, the oldest part of the church, preceding the twelfth-century reconstruction. The groin vaults of this vast space, equaling that of the choir above, are supported by sixty-four columns and twenty-two semi-columns. There are several original capitals from various periods. The oldest, possibly datable to the eighth century, have characteristics that define them as Lombard-Nonantolan: foliated capitals, with two or three superimposed orders, whose sculpted reliefs are strongly accentuated. The squatter and more graceful columns, decorated with palm leaves, and surmounted by abaci, are later (11th- and 12th- century). The crypt contains many relics, including those of Saint Anselm, founder of the abbey.

It is important to point out that the present appearance of the basilica is in large part the fruit of a radical campaign of restoration carried out between 1913 and 1917, which attempted to recover the building’s old Romanesque features. During that campaign, the groin vaults of the nave were demolished, substituted with a trussed ceiling. Other significant interventions included bringing the presbytery back to its original height and freeing the crypt from its fifteenth-century interment.


Additional Info

  • Address: Piazza Abbazia, 4 41015 Nonantola Modena
  • Province:
  • Phone: +39 059/549025
  • Opening Days and Time: L'Abbazia è sempre aperta ad orario continuato dalle ore 8,00 alle 19,00.
    I turisti sono pregati di rispettare le celebrazioni litugiche. La celebrazione della Santa Messa è fissata:

    GIORNI FERIALI: ore 9,00

    ore 17,30 (orario solare) o 18,30 (orario legale) del sabato (celebrazione prefestiva)
    ore 11,15
    17,30 (orario solare) o 18,30 (orario legale)
    I Vespri si celebrano nei pomeriggi del sabato e della domenica mezz'ora prima dell'Eucarestia.

  • Guided Tour: Per visite guidate contattare l'associazione Rabisch (Tel: +39 338 6357868 - associazione.rabisch@gmail.com) Si offrono visite per gruppi di studenti, adulti e disabili. Guide disponibili in lingue straniere. Oppure per una visita con guida del Gruppo San Benedetto si consiglia la prenotazione telefonica (059/549025 059/549025)
  • Recommended Restaurants:
  • Alloggio consigliato:
Last modified on Friday, 08 April 2016 20:18