CASTELNUOVO DON BOSCO
Church of Santa Maria di Cornareto

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In the mid-fourteenth century the churches of Santa Maria di Cornalee, St. Michael and St. Thomas of Pogliano, located around 2 kilometres from each other on a hillside to the northwest of Castelnuovo, were governed by a single religious figure: the priest William (Guglielmo). The conditions for their construction, which took place about a century and a half earlier, had already been changed. The populations of the small surrounding villages were lapsing and the inhabitants, who could not sustain a priest for every church, had probably moved to worship at the nearby Castelnuovo, a harbinger of activity for the events of the castle and the new village. Today, St. Thomas has disappeared and St. Michael has been completely reconstructed in the Baroque style. The only one of the trio that still retains some of its original twelfth century structures is Santa Maria di Cornareto. The apse of this church has some of the peculiar characteristics of the Romanesque style: the semicircular structure is divided into three panels by a pair of small square pilasters that are set upon a remodeled pedastal . Each panel has a small lancet window, arched by a monolithic element (a false archway) where the curvature is underlined by a thin, equidistant groove. A series of clay shelves, that may already belong to the changes of the late fourteenth century, crown the top of the apse giving movement to the ancient walls. The regular masonry of the building seems to have made use of blocks of local stone in all possible dimensions, and the uneven heights of the partitions show that the difficulty of transporting the stone to the top of the hill meant that blocks and fragments of stone in all shapes and sizes had to find their exact place.
The first documents in which Cornareto is cited are estimates of the revenues of the diocese of Vercelli, in 1298. At that time the church belonged to the parish of Santa Maria of Pino d’Asti, which had overlooked many churches in the area since the tenth century .
At the end of the sixteenth century the church was recorded as being in poor condition and even without a roof. Therefore the delegate of the Bishop of Vercelli ordered the Provost of Sant’Andrea of Castelnuovo, which had by then become the parish church, to provide the funds necessary fori ts reconstruction. The pastoral visit to the church of 1574 provided a detailed description of the building and its furnishings, and notably records the presence of three small windows; those in the apse and a in small door. The church at that time appears to have retained its typical Romanesque characteristics. In the seventeenth century, for the first time, it was partially rebuilt in the baroque fashion and then perhaps a century later, a high bell tower was added to the southeast side. This is documented by some photographs of 1925, but the tower collapsed in the 1940s. In the 1980s the dilapidated baroque façade was demolished and a new “neo-Romanesque” facade was built, compensating for the deep vertical cracks in the apse and reroofing the building with a wooden structure and roof tiles.

Bibliography

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, 1984 (ed. 1998), pp. 80-83.
CAPPELLINO M., Chiesa di Santa Maria di Cornareto a Castelnuovo Don Bosco, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, pp. 116-117.