Church of Santa Maria of Pisenzana
The ancient rural church of Santa Maria Assunta, isolated on a hillside one kilometre from the centre of Montechiaro, is mentioned in a document from as far back as 905. In this document Pope Sergius III confirmed the donation of this church, as well as all of the churches under its jurisdiction, to the chapter of the Cathedral of Asti.
At the turn of the year 1000 the territorial expansion of the parish church of Pisenzana reached its peak in the Versa and Rilate valleys, having gained possession of the churches of San Michele, Cunico, San Martino di Ponengo, Cinaglio, Casasco, San Giorgio ‘de Cruce’, Cortandone, San Bartolomeo di Rivocrosio (Camerano), Maretto, Avenue, Piea, Cortazzone, Malesco (?), Crozarino (Cortanze?) and the now lost sites of Gobione and Albareto. Only after the founding in 1200 of Villanova di Montechiaro did the church begin to lose much of its importance. The town surrounding it was abandoned and merged with the new village. Although the church kept its pieve status as a baptismal site, it soon came to be used only as a cemetery. In 1662 it lost its parochial rights to the church of Santa Caterina and was reduced to the status of a country chapel by order of the Bishop of Roero.
The building, which has survived for more than a thousand years, is the result of numerous reconstructions, the last of which is attributable to the early nineteenth century. By then the church was in a much reduced form compared to the powerful original church, but at this time the small nave was built using sandstone blocks recycled from the original church as well as bricks and debris. According to the pastoral visit of the bishop Monsignor Michele Amatore Lobetti in 1838, this reconstruction maintained “the ancient choir”, ie the semi-circular apse. On the outside the apse is separated into four panels by thin pilasters, entirely made from terracotta, as are the small pointed arches and figurative corbels that support an elegant decorative band with small diamond shapes. The pilasters are completely separated from the arches, thereby losing any architectural sense and signifying a respect for form that was unaware of functionality. This reconstruction therefore must have taken place several centuries after the church’s foundation and the Romanesque period in Monferrato. The apse was completely rebuilt, probably in the middle of the fifteenth century. Even inside, in the apse, traces of sinopia (preliminary schemes used for the composition of figurative painting) are visible, helping us to date the church back to the fifteenth century.
At the front of the church the “gothic” portal, flanked by two small windows, can be attributed to the major restorations dating back to 1954.
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. 126-128
GALVAN C., Santa Maria di Pisenzana Montechiaro d’Asti, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, pp. 144-147.
TOSCO C., Le chiese nel paesaggio storico dell’astigiano, in CROCE V., Tra gotico e Neogotico. Le chiese parrocchiali astigiane, CRASTI, 2012, pp. 16-17.