San Benedetto Po, Abbazia di Polirone

MappaSan Benedetto Po, Abbazia di Polirone

The vast and imposing Abbazia di Polirone rises in a quiet and serene countryside setting, for the most part on land reclaimed by the monks. Its history begins in the XIth century (1007), when Tebaldo di Canossa granted half of the portion of land between the rivers Po and Lirone to the Benedictine monks, thus prompting the title "in Polirone" given to the monastery built there. Another Canossa, the powerful Marchese Bonifacio III, decided to substitute the original church with a larger building, in honour of the memory of San Simeone, a hermit popular for his compassion and charity, who died in the monastery in 1016. In 1077 the monastery was handed over to the reformed abbey of Cluny. Bonifacio's daughter the famous "Gran contessa" Matilde (protector of the Pope during the fight with the Emperor over investiture powers, 1075-76), further added to the donation between 1100 and 1115. In the XVth century, Guido Gonzaga, commendator of the monastery, had the church rebuilt in late Gothic style, in addition to various other buildings. In the following century, the complex was again modified by Giulio Romano. In 1797, the Benedictine community was suppressed by Napoleon and a number of the buildings demolished, while others were left derelict. The monastery represents an extraordinary complex which allows us to peruse an itinerary through art and history over seven centuries.
The Chiesa di S. Maria, dating from 1151, a valuable example of imported French Romanic style in line with the model of the Chiesa di S. Maria di Cluny, conserves an elaborate mosaic floor dating from 1151, depicting the fight between Good and Evil, with figures of animals and human beings. The restoration work has brought to light a number of frescoes from the Giotto era (beginning of the XIVth century), The Chiostro di San Simeone (or Chiostro dell'Infermeria), in late Gothic style, has large double lancet windows with ogival arches, and alternation of columns and pilasters. There are frescoes with scenes from the life of San Simeone dating from the XVIth century. From the Chiostro di San Benedetto (the Chiostro Maggiore), a late Gothic building from the middle of the XVth century, only two sides remain with traces of frescoes. The "Refettorio Grande" (1478-79) is an isolated building with four bays. A fresco attributed to Correggio(1513-14) has recently been discovered. The monumental "Infermeria Nuova", completed in 1584, with vast cellars, was destined for very many different uses. The Basilica di S. Benedetto is where the major works of Giulio Romano (1539-47) were carried out. They include the remains of the primitive church in 1130 and the consequent rebuilding in the 15th century. The cupola and the vaults of the central nave, of late-Gothic provenance, were adorned by Romano with richly mannered decorations. The finely carved wooden doors date from 1524. The interior, with three naves, is completely frescoed. On the walls are canvasses representing episodes from the Old and New Testaments (1726). In the 10 side chapels are to be found frescoes from the Giulio Romano school. The presbytery has Romanic columns and a beautiful carved choir-stall dating from 1550, where a crowd of human heads decorates the 71 stalls. Preceding the sacristy is the tomb of Matilde di Canossa, whose remains were transported to the Vatican in 1632 on the orders of Pope Urban VIIIth, who wished to give better honour to the memory of a woman and of a family so faithful to the Church. The splendid sacristy, with a vault frescoed in Giulio Romano's age, has wardrobes richly carved by the brothers Piantavigna (Brescian woodcarvers) in 1561-63. In one of the rooms of the Chiostro dei Secolari, of 15th century origins but restructured in Baroque style in 1674, and perhaps used as a rest-house for pilgrims, two important frescoes have been discovered, dating from the end of the XVth century.


Address: Piazza Matilde di Canossa
City: San Benedetto Po
Phone: 0376 623036

In the surroundings