Monday, 23 July 2012 13:23

Abbey of San Mercuriale

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The Abbey of San Mercuriale faces the south side of the Piazza Aurelio Saffi, the most significant monumental Romanesque complex of the entire province of Forlì. The reconstruction of its ancient origins remains difficult due to the lack of secure historic documentation of the foundation of the early church and of the legendary figure of San Mercuriale to whom the church is dedicated. The first document that attests to the existence of a Benedictine monastery located outside the walls (the medieval walled city was further west with respect to the modern), is an act of donation of April 8, 894 by the Archbishop of Ravenna to the abbot of San Mercuriale in Forlì. Prior to that, there are only uncertainties and suppositions. The tradition suggests that in the fourth century San Mercuriale, bishop of the ancient city of
Forum Livii, founded the first Christian church dedicated to Santo Stefano—the original cathedral—east of the city walls. Some time after the foundation, the cathedral was transferred inside the walls to the church of Santa Croce and the early church, located in the present-day center of Forlì, was transformed into a sanctuary containing the remains of its founder and a Benedictine monastery was also founded there. The history of the period after the year 1000 is rich with bequests and donations that attest to the expansion of the monastery and the development of the city to the east. Forlì eventually engulfed the territory of San Mercuriale, resulting in its inclusion within its new walls. A ruinous fire of 1173 destroyed much of the city and the monastery. In its wake, works of reconstruction were begun to build a new abbey in the Lombard Romanesque style on the site of the former church’s ruins. Baroque additions followed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, and were later eliminated by the bombardments of the Second World War and the twentieth-century restorations that aimed to return the monument to the Romanesque physiognomy that had distinguished it since 1176.

On the exterior, the façade, the result of modern reconstruction, is interesting primarily due to the portal lunette, containing an important Romanesque sculptural ensemble. In the center is the adoration of the Magi, the Virgin and child with Joseph to the right, and the story of the dream of the Magi to the left. These sculptures, originating from the School of Benedetto Antelami, can be ascribed to the thirteenth century, particularly resembling the hand of the Maestro dei Mesi di Ferrara. The seventy-five-meter campanile, located on the right side of the abbey is one of the tallest and most interesting Lombard Romanesque campanili. Built in 1178 under the direction of Francesco Deddi, it has a square plan and a conical spire, encircled by four turrets around the base of the spire. Blind arches connect the Lombard bands that divide the campanile sides in three. Transversally, cornices and corbel tables divide the tower into five stories. The fifteenth-century cloister of the Vallambrosian monks is behind the tower. Its two sides are constituted by loggias open to the outside and inside.

The interior of San Mercuriale is typically Romanesque: sober and severe nude brick. The reconstruction may well represent an attentive repetition of the twelfth-century Romanesque. The basilical plan has a three-aisled nave, without a transept, the nave divided into three super bays by round transverse arches. Each super bay is subdivided into three bays by longitudinal arches. The third bay was formerly divided into two floors—one elevated for the monks and a crypt below where the clergy officiated—but the division was not rebuilt following its collapse in 1505. The walls of the third bay suggest the original structure through the presence of two superimposed orders, the lower arches indicating the former crypt and the upper, the elevated presbytery.

Other monuments on the interior include the column-bearing lion from the porch that used to surround the portal; the chapel containing the fifteenth-century tomb of Barbara Manfredi, wife of the lord of Forlì, by Francesco di Simone Ferrucci from Fiesole, and a chapel with the frescoes of Marco Palmezzano (1459-1539). At the end of the southern aisle is an early-medieval stone cross and the Cappella Mercuriale, which contains the remains of the patron saint, as well as interesting frescoes of Livio and Gianfrancesco Modigliani, commissioned by the influential Gerolamo Mercuriali (1530-1606).


Suggested Reading:

G. Spinelli, San Mercuriale a Forlì, in Monasteri benedettini in Emilia-Romagna, Milano 1980.

S. Stocchi, "San Mercuriale a Forlì," in Italia Romanica. L’Emilia-Romagna, Milano 1984.

A. Colombi Ferretti, L. Prati, U. Tramonti, Il complesso monumentale di San Mercuriale a Forlì: restauri, Forlì 2000.

Additional Info

  • Address: Piazza Aurelio Saffi, Forlì
  • Province:
  • Phone: +39 0543 25653
  • Opening Days and Time:

    La basilica è sempre aperta sia nei giorni feriali sia in quelli festivi dalle 6.30 fino a tarda sera. L'ingresso è gratuito.

  • Guided Tour: Per visite guidate contattare l'associazione Rabisch (Tel: +39 338 6357868 - Si offrono visite per gruppi di studenti, adulti e disabili. Guide disponibili in lingue straniere.
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Last modified on Sunday, 19 August 2012 21:03