Church of San Pietro
The church of San Pietro was built on the hill which from the town of Portacomaro streches westward, towards the hills of Mongaribatto, in an area made up of small hills covered by forests and vineyards.
The building overlooks a small churchyard, surrounded by a high wall , raised high up above the road which has sunk over the centuries, probably because of the transit of carts and vehicles and natural lowering of the ground.
The church is made up of a single nave with a rectangular apse, resulting from a partial reconstruction during the fifteenth century. The front part of the building retains the church’s original Romanesque layout, with its tripartite facade and sides divided by small pilasters which enclose crowns of hanging arches carved directly into the stone. The main door is emphasized by large sandstone blocks that also form the crescent-shaped arch above the lintel. As always in elevated masonary, we can also see the alternating distribution of brick and sandstone blocks, responsive to common chromatic values in buildings of that time.
San Pietro is one of the rare Romanesque churches of Monferrato in which there is a crypt, which can be accessed through a trap door.
The square apse is covered by a cross ribbed vault and preserves a remarkable set of frescoes attributed to the late fifteenth century. We can be fairly precise in this dating thanks to the comparison with the figurative apparatus at the Cave of the Madonna of Montemagno, which are dated 1491. In the frescoes mentioned in fact, we notice a persistent repetition of compositional schemes.
On the east wall of the apse a votive painting, dated 1406, depicts the martyrdom of San Sebastiano and is attributed to “Antony De pilis”, due to the record of an inscription which has since disappeared. De Pilis was a well-known figure in fifteenth-century Asti, he is documented as being active at the church of the Saints Sebastian and Fabiano at Scandeluzza, at Viatosto (Asti) and at the Collegiate Church of San Secondo, also in Asti. Next to the San Sebastiano, Sant’Antonio Abate is depicted, patriach of monasticism.
The church, dating from the early twelfth century, was mentioned for the first time in the diocesan registry of 1345, together with the church of San Martino of Portacomaro (since disappeared), which stood on a hill to the west of San Pietro. The church was then placed under the control of the monastery of San Bartolomeo of Azzano, to which it passed over a part of its assets. The monastery of Azzano was an ancient Benedictine foundation located a short distance from Asti, south of the Tanaro, that was destroyed following the Napoleonic Edict of 1803. According to the 1619 pastoral visit, San Pietro was in a poor condition and the Bishop decreed to go through with its restoration (at the expense of the Pope) and to worship at least once a month in honour of the deceased. The same pastoral visit spelled a worse fate for the church of San Martino, because the community could not afford two restorations, it was ordered that the church be demolished.
San Pietro, isolated from surrounding buildings, was used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a cemetery church. In 1968 it became incorporated into a private property, and remained as such until 2000. From this year onward it was entrusted in free loan (lasting 99 years) to the municipality of Portacomaro, which since then has been responsible for its maintenance and opening to the public.
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. 146-148.
SCUOLA MEDIA “G. PARINI”, a cura di, La chiesa di San Pietro a Portacomaro, ATL, 1998-99, pp. 8.
CAPPELLINO M., Chiesa di San Pietro Portacomaro, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, pp. 170-173.