Mantova, Santa Maria del Gradaro
Traditions that cannot be verified have it that a church called Santa Maria in Campo Santo was built here in early Christian times, in the place where St Longinus and other martyrs were killed. The documents testify that the church had already been built in 1256 by the Regular Canons of St Mark, a Mantua-born order founded half a century earlier. The church then passed to the Olivetan and Celestinian Monks; suppressed in 1772, degraded to military warehouse and then abandoned for a long time, the church was rescued and restored since 1952 by another Mantua-born religious family, the Oblates of the Poor of Immaculate Mary, who made the adjacent convent their mother house. Despite suffering for the events mentioned, Santa Maria del Gradaro (whose name presumably comes from the Latin word cretarium, namely clay from the shore of the Lake Inferiore, behind) is one of the finest examples of Mantua Roman holy art. The asymmetric hut-shaped façade, with the beautiful rose window and portal - the latter dated 1295 and made by Jacopo and Ognabene Gratasola), leads to a interior made of a nave and two aisles in Romanesque-Gothic architecture, originally divided in two by a wall. The wall - whose frescoed bases are still visible – was built to divide the space of the laymen from that of monks. The side aisles keep part of the 16th-century changes made by the Olivetan Monks; the lunettes feature magnificent frescoes depicting Episodes of the Easter, from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. Other frescoes are in the chapel at the end of the left aisle; a beautiful Eternal Father and traces of frescoes imitating the Byzantine style, which become more numerous in the central apse (Prophets and Saints; the Last Supper) and in the two wonderful Madonnas with the Infant Jesus on the right of the apse. The convent, with an austere exterior, enclose a peaceful 15th-century cloister (ask the porter to visit it), with a wing dating back to the next century. The latter wing features a mullioned window with two lights and inverted arches, a hall (now forming part of a convent chapel) with an umbrella-shaped vault and another hall that was frescoed with scenes from the Life of Abraham.
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