Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A 12th Century Romanesque Crucifix

The cathedral of Casale Monferrato in the Piedmont region of Italy houses a crucifix of the later 12th century, one of the best preserved examples of the Romanesque period. The corpus is made of copper covered in a fine layer of silver, while the crown and loincloth are gilded; the cross itself is painted wood, and decorated with 157 precious stones (20 others have been lost). The figure of Christ is over 6½ feet tall, and the cross about 9½; altogether, it weighs over 280 pounds. As was typical in the early Middle Ages, Christ is shown awake and wholly upright, to indicate that He is still the creator and sustainer of the universe, even in the midst of His Passion. Originally made for the cathedral of nearby Alessandria, it was taken from there as war booty during a conflict between the two cities at the beginning of the 15th century; after spending much of the Counter-Reformation period in the sacristy, it was restored to the main sanctuary in 1930. (Photos by Nicola de’ Grandi.)

The choir behind the main altar.
The true story of the church’s titular Saint has been lost; he is traditionally said to have been a bishop of Asti, or perhaps one of the other cities in the region, martyred ca. 355 by the Arians. In 1216, his relics were taken from Casale Monferrato, the place of his martyrdom, by soldiers from Alessandria, Asti and Vercelli; they were then brought back in 1403 at the same time as the crucifix, and are now housed in this chapel.
The cathedral was built at the beginning of the 12th century, and is well-known in the region for its imposing narthex, which is unique in both its architectural form and decorative style. It has been suggested that the style may have been imported from the eastern Mediterranean by the Templars.
The tomb of Bernardino Tebaldeschi, first bishop of Casale Monferrato, which was made a diocese by Pope Sixtus IV in 1474.
The façade of the cathedral. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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