Church of San Martino
The church of San Martino was the ancient parish church of Mercuriolum, a village which disappeared at the end of the fifteenth century. Mercuriolum was recorded for the first time in 1034 due to an exchange of goods between the Abbey of Nonantola and the Counts of Pombia, and these records locate it at about one kilometre east of the centre of the village of Buttigliera that we know today. The disappearance of the village is most likely attributable to the construction of the villanuova at Buttigliera, founded by the town of Asti in 1264. In the sixteenth century San Martino was under the jurisdiction of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, then located in Malta. This was, however, the case even during the twelfth century, according to the Order’s documents kept at the State archives of Turin. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the building was visited several times by commissioners of the Order and in 1655, it was found in a poor state. The chief commisioner at the time ordered the church’s repair and the works were carried out to the Order’s satisfaction: “… the church in good condition, covered … the walls painted very well.”
The church, which consists of a nave and an underlying crypt was, as a result of these complex historical events, placed at the centre of the local cemetery and underwent numerous alterations. A stretch of the external north wall documents a rare construction technique using sandstone, brick and tile fragments to create a ‘herringbone’ effect which probably dates back to the original eleventh century building. The south wall preserves Romanesque structures: two-tone masonry which alternates large blocks of sandstone with regular rows of brick can, based on comparisons with other churches in the area, be dated back to the twelfth or thirteenth century. The semicircular apse built with a smooth brick belongs to a later era, around the mid-fifteenth century, as is evident from the presence of a fresco of St. Bernard with a demon on a chain in its half-dome vault. Further, in the upper area of the apse, highlighted by multicoloured cornicing, we can find the symbols of the Evangelists centred around the Blessing Christ. At the time of the 1775 pastoral visit it was still possible to read the date of this fresco as 1454, and on the left the inscription “Hic Bartolomeus de Solaro fecit” was visible, only to subsequently disappear.
Part of the external south wall stretching towards the facade is coeval with the apse, and therefore attributable to the mid-fifteenth century, including the denticulated cornice.
Of great socio-historical interest are the graffiti which refer to the deceased buried around the base of the outer wall. They can be dated between 1522, when the inscriptions testify to the devasation of the plague in the area, and 1819. The salient facade was accurately reconstructed, in neo-Romanesque style, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
ANGRISANI G., Appendici storiche, in Chiuso T., Buttigliera d’Asti. Cenni storici, Verona, Centro per la formazione professionale grafica, 1975, pp. XVII-XLI.
CAPPELLINO M., Chiesa di San Giorgio. Aramengo, in Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano, Asti, Cassa di Risparmio di Asti, 2006, pp. 105-106.
CHIUSO T., Buttigliera astigiana. Cenni, Torino, Collegio degli Artigianelli – Tipografia San Giuseppe, 1875, rist. anastatica Verona, Centro per la formazione professionale grafica,1975.
GRAMAGLIA E. B., Buttigliera d’Asti. Capitoli di storia antica, Buttigliera d’Asti, s.n., 2002.
PITTARELLO L. (a cura di), Le chiese romaniche delle campagne astigiane. Un repertorio per la loro conoscenza, conservazione, tutela, Torino – Asti, Soprintendenza per i beni ambientali e architettonici del Piemonte – Provincia di Asti, ed. 1998, pp. XXIII, 49-55.
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