PIOVA’ MASSAIA
Church of San Martino of Castelvero

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At the southern entrance of the village of Piovà, on the remains of hill that has been gradually reduced and dug to create a piazza, are the ruins of the dual apse Romanesque church of San Martino Vetus Castrum or Castelvero. This ancient village was later merged with Plebata, the original name of Piovà Massaia. The ecclesia sancti Martini is mentioned for the first time in 1345 as being part of the parish of San Giorgio of Meyrate, also located in Piovà, in the confines of ​​the present day cemetery, on the road to Cocconato. There is scarse documentation regarding the church, we must indeed wait until 1513 when San Martino is documented as being the meeting place of the municipal headquarters of Piovà and Castelvero. The site was gradually abandoned and by the time of the pastoral visit of 1744 the Romanesque church had become a cemetery. The new parish church of Castelvero (with the same name) appears to have been near to the present town, in the area of ​​the castle, on whose site now stands the former rectory. From 1810 onwards the church was no longer officiated and in 1835 the surrounding cemetery was closed.
The remains that have survived consist of the outer walls, preserved to a maximum height of about 3 metres from the base of the apse, and part of the facade in which we can identify a portion of the original Romanesque building made from isodomic sandstone blocks. The entrance portal is elegantly arched by a double ring of stone and brick. This area of wall is flanked to the east by a later reconstruction of mixed masonary using stone and brick fragments. We can also identify an original area of wall within the structures of the apses, where the stone blocks are interspersed with ‘herringbone’ masonry using a decorative assembly of fragments of shingle roof tiles. However, the different dimensions of the various blocks and the wide joins between them are very different from parts of the facade, which helps us to date the reconstruction as having taken place after that of the entrance area and before that of the side walls.
In any case, the building is dated by historians to the eleventh century, due to the use of recycled roof tiles from a previous building, and the particular characteristics of the building’s layout: a single nave with twin apses, which are very similar to each other , would attribute the extant structure to a total rehash of the original building. Was it at this point that the order for such a composition was given? But what could be the reasons behind a decision so far removed from the consolidated contemporary norms of church structures? The church may have been dedicated to two saints, which could explain the need for two altars but, to date, there is no documentation to verify this supposition. Given the church’s dating back to around the year 1000, a time when there would have been many people from the countryside that were not yet bapitized and therefore the process of integration into Christianity had to take place gradually, one might imagine a different liturgical use of the divided spaces in this religious building. For example, especially at the time of the Eucharistic celebration, those who still had not yet received the sacrament of baptism had to leave the sacred building and worship in another area, or in the adjacent aisle.

Bibliografia

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. 140-145.
GALVAN C., San Martino di Castelvero Piovà, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, pp. 168-169.
FERRERO M., Alcune considerazioni sulle chiese biabsidate: Liguria e Piemonte Sud-Occidentale, in “PROGETTO RESTAURO”, a. 9, n° 22, 2002, pp. 26-32.