Thursday, August 01, 2019

The Romanesque Churches of San Leo, Italy

The hilltop town of San Leo in the Romagna region of Italy keeps today as the feast of the patron Saint for whom it is named. He is traditionally said to have been a stone-cutter from Dalmatia, who, together with his friend and fellow-tradesman Marinus, crossed over to Italy to escape from the persecution of Diocletian, ca. 297 AD. This was when the Emperor was building his great palace in what is now the city of Split, and there are many legends of Christians who were perescuted by him for refusing to participate in the building project. Leo became a hermit in the area of Rimini, and later the first bishop of nearby Montefeltro, while Marinus, who was ordained a deacon, would found the tiny republic on the next hill over which famously retains its independence to this day, and is now named for him, San Marino.

The town has preserved two very nice Romanesque churches, the cathedral from the later 12th century, which is named for San Leo, and the parish church of the Assumption, which dates back to the 9th. The latter has a baldachin over the altar which is dated to the year 882. Here are some photos from a recent visit.

The Cathedral of San Leo
As in many Italian Romanesque churches, the main sanctuary is elevated very considerably above the floor of the nave.
The capitals of the church’s columns are recycled from ancient Roman buildings, including a temple of Jupiter which was built on the hill in roughly the 1st century AD.
A Roman capital set upside-down as the base of a column.
The main altar and tabernacle, both modern.
The view of the nave from the sanctuary.
Also in keeping with the typical Italian Romanesque plan, the church has a crypt which is very much lower than the floor level of the nave.
The altar of the crypt.
The lid of the large stone sarcophagus in which the relics of San Leo were formerly kept; the relics themselves were removed to the church of St Stefano in Ferrara in 1083.
The opposite side of the cathedral.
The bell-tower.

The parish of the Assumption
An inscription on the baldachin reads as follows: “To the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, I, the duke Urus, a sinner, ordered (that this be made). I ask all of you that read this to pray for me. (Made) at the time of Pope John (VIII) and the Emperor Charles III, in the 15th indiction.” (i.e. 882 AD)
More capitals recycled from much older Roman buildings.
The crypt
The cathedral seen from the door of the parish.
The apse of the parish, which faces on the town’s main square.
The fortress of San Leo, which dominates the upper part of the hill on which the town is built.
The two churches and the bell-tower seen from the fortress.

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