Chiesa Madonna della Neve
The church of the Madonna della Neve at Vulpilio is located in the municipality of Villafranca, on a hilly ridge between the valley of the Traversola river and that of the Triversa, north-east of the plateau of Villanova.
The original Romanesque building was dedicated to Santa Maria and dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Only the semicircular apse is preserved of the original building which is heavily plastered. We can still observe, however, its base surmounted by two more semi-exposed stones which delimit three recesses each with a central lancet window and richly decorated architrave which, fortunately, have not been plastered. The blocks of sandstone alternate with brick, and in the central lancet window there is a denti di lupo motif that enhances the bichrome effect.
There is historical documentation regarding Vulpilio that dates back to the beginning of the twelfth century, in fact in 1132, the bishop Landolfo transferred ownership of the village from the Church of Asti to the nuns of San Anastasio,”in Vulpilio in Treversole et cum omnibus qui sunt de nostro districto”, thereby placing all inhabitants of the village under their jurisdiction. The current location of Vulpilio is known only due to the survival of the church. The territory of Vulpilio was then much larger than it appears today – currently its name refers only to the surroundings of the church. It is thanks to many medieval documents that we know this placed was intertwined in many interest and rights, in competition with the bishop of Asti and his nuns.
During the thirteenth century, when the village was still prosperous, a priest lived there who administered goods to the villagers. In 1228 this priest was a certain Manfredo, from whose home was stipulated a deed. Surviving documents tell us that, between that year and 1258, the church of Santa Maria di Vulpilio appeared to have at least a dozen plots, given to third parties to manage. This third party management seems toh ave been the case 1255 for three fields in the Triversa valley, which were managed by a certain Guglielmo Salta di Belmonte. In 1303 the stipend of Vulpilio was held by Canon Boniface of Valperga who left it vacant. Considering that nobody demanded it, it was probably not profitable, and was assigned to the office of Canon Antonio Desaya. Despite a decline in 1411 it still owned some land scattered throughout the Triversa valley and the hills, and the village of Vulpilio still housed two churches – we know that there was also a church of San Giovanni under the jurisdiction of the Benedictine monastery of Breme.
In 1585 the apostolic visitor found the church of Santa Maria “de Vulpiis” restored and recently expanded with the reuse of the material from the ruined church of San Giovanni, which by that time was just a small, delapidated chapel. From the seventeenth century it became property of the Goria family and, a small hermitage appeared, attached to the church. In the eighteenth century the church took on the title of B. M. V. ad Nives, Madonna della Neve. The Goria family retained patronage until 1828 when the Counts of Canalis of Cumiana took it over. At the beginning of the twentieth century the bell tower was constructed and in time the building underwent further changes, to become the building we know today.
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. 199-201.
BORDONE R. a cura di, Comune di Villafranca, Schede storiche-territoriali dei comuni del Piemonte, 1998 (agg. 2004)
BORDONE R., Spunti per una storia del paesaggio astigiano di antico regime con particolare riguardo al nord-ovest, in “Quaderni di Muscandia”, II (2004), pp. 70-81
TOSI A., SALERNO P., Chiesa della Madonna della Neve – Villafranca d’Asti, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, p. 209.
BORDONE R., La festa patronale di Villafranca, Villafranca, 2009, pp. 1-26.