Church of San Michele
The church of San Michele, located halfway up the hilly ridge that streches from Tonengo to Cocconato, stands on a steep slope. This positioning is appropriate given the symbolism of ‘upward’ worship regarding San Michele, but it does somewhat limit the dimensions of the churchyard. To reach the church from the main road below, it is necessary to climb a small staircase.
The church’s dedication to the archangel San Michele, prince and captain of the angels, could also indicate the passage of one of the major routes of a medieval pilgrimage between Normandy Mont Saint Michel, the Sacra di San Michele on Pirchiriano and Monte Sant’Angelo on the Gargano. On the route to Jerusalem obviously the Roman road between Industria (a Roman city that lay below the current Monteu da Po) and Hasta Pompeia (Asti) crossed the hills precisely in these areas. In fact the first historical data regarding Tonengo from 1298, tells us that San Michele is mentioned in the estimi of the parish of San Giovanni Lustrian, the ancient Roman city of Industria, which further proves the theory that this site was host to ancient visitors.
In the middle of the fourteenth century San Michele was under the patronage of the Counts of Radicati and the lords of Cocconato, from the fraction of Aramengo. It was the parish church of Tonengo until the sixteenth century, when the new parish church dedicated to San Bernardo was built about a kilometre to the west. Subsequently, in the pastoral visits of 1577 and 1584 San Michele is only mentioned as the former Parish of Tonengo.
The building has been extensively modified over the centuries, and is composed of a single hall ending in a semicircular apse preceded by a major triumphal arch. This arch is externally contained by two symmetrical buttresses, as is the case in many single-nave Romanesque churches. The apse and buttresses were built in two phases. To the first phase, probably during the twelfth century, we can attribute the sandstone block base. During the second phase, from the late fourteenth to the early fifteenth century, the walls were constructed using large, regular rows of orange brick, and were crowned with suspended arches and sculptural denti di sega decoration. The south side has been reconstructed, reusing (and often misplacing) recognizably Romanesque architectural elements. The stone portal with its pretty carved ring was probably, with the support of a lintel, also the main entrance door. Without a lintel it may simply have served as a small door close to the east buttresses, as is customary in many Romanesque churches in Monferrato, although the jambs with which the door is supported are certainly not contemporary with the refined blocks of stones present in the ring. The northern side and the facade can be attributed to the eighteenth century reconstruction of the church, which left its mark particularly on the inside of the building: the barrel vaults were built, the floors were changed and the altar with its faux marble cornices was installed. Even the internal natural lighting, achieved through the implementation of rectangular windows of fairly significant size in comparison with the building, is very different from that which was originally provided by the Romanesque mullioned windows in the apse.
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. 192-194.
BATTISTONI M., LOMBARDINI S., a cura di, Comune di Tonengo, Schede storiche-territoriali dei comuni del Piemonte, s.d.
CAPPELLINO M., Chiesa di San Michele di Tonengo, in a cura di, Osservatorio del Paesaggio, “Il paesaggio del romanico astigiano”, CRASTI, 2006, pp. 126-135.