VILLANOVA D’ASTI
Church of Corveglia

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To the south of the hills of Monferrato on the plateau of Villanova, in the small village of long, low farmhouses “della piana”, constructed mainly as rustic shelter for fodder and agricultural tools, stands the ancient complex of the spedale, the clergy house and the splendid bell tower of Corveglia, which has existed in this territory for about 900 years. It constitutes one of the most significant historical, artistic and architectural sites in the area.
The Corveglia bell-tower is the oldest building in this complex that originally included the church of San Giacomo, which has disappeared, the provost and the spedale (‘hospital’) where travellers, pilgrims and religious figures were welcomed. The spedale was later turned into a castle. The bell tower is square with a base of massive walls that reach 1.25m thick. It is about 20 metres tall which undoubtedly made it a fundamental point of orientation for travellers along the “plain of Villanova” during the first centuries of the second millennium AD. Built with beautiful masonry using regular rows of large bricks (31x12x8 cm ) arranged vertically and horizontally, it currently rises for six levels underlined by elegant cornicing with simple arches and denti di sega decorations. Two slightly protruding pilasters vertically frame the structure, creating a series of recesses in which from the very bottom, single and mullioned windows give movement to the surface and bring in light and air. The capitals of the thin sandstone columns that adorn the mullioned windows of the fourth and fifth levels and the three-light windows on the sixth level are particularly spectacular with branches, leaves and fruits running over their sandstone surface. Internally, the first two levels of the tower are covered,the first by cross vaults and the second by a round-arched barrel vault. The thirteenth-century rectory building or Augustinian priory adjacent to the bell tower has three floors above ground and on the ground floor retains extremely elegant ribbed vaults and central columns of brick and sandstone masonary.
The first document that officially attests to the presence of the spedale appears in 1153 and ratifies a donation from the Marquis of Romagnano to the Provost Guglielmo. Built as a street hospital following the desire of Ruffino, a lord of Ferrere, it immediately became a regular Augustinian priory according to the title of San Giacomo of Corveglia.
Over the centuries the territory belonging to San Giacomo of Corveglia expanded considerably and still today the canons have land and annuities in dozens of locations ranging from the centre of Asti to the Val Germanasca, in Pinerolo, in San Damiano, in Racconigi, etc. …
In 1376 the territorial endowment of the monastery had reached more than four hundred hectares of arable land, meadows and woods. In the middle of the fifteenth century the monk Aimonetto of Ferrere, in a letter to the Bishop of Asti, recounted the events surrouding the monastery of Corveglia, defining it as most noble and honorable.
In 1473 the parish of Corveglia was suppressed and placed under the jurisdiction of Santa Maria del Piano in Pinerolo.
At the end of the fifteenth century Giovannino Riccio took possession of the former provost and began its transformation into a manor house.
Amongst various vicissitudes of submission to either the Bishop of Asti or the Duke of Orleans, involving the Riccio family and the Municipality of Villanova, in the late sixteenth century the provost of the church of San Giacomo di Corveglia disappears from documents. From the seventeenth century onwards the imposing bell tower began to be cited and the church of Sant’Antonio of Padua was built on the site of the provost headquarters – home to the “most beautiful and richest monastery” in the diocese of Asti.
Since the nineteenth century it has been privately owned and used as a farm, sheltering animals, equipment and food. It is currently destined to be used for accommodation and catering purposes.

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. 202-210.
BORDONE R., CARPIGNANO G., La prevostura di Corveglia. Passato e futuro di un monumento astigiano, Provinvia di Asti, 2001, pp. 7-114.
CAPPELLINO M., Campanile di Corveglia – Villanova d’Asti, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, p. 208.