MANTA, Santa Maria del Monastero


Santa Maria del Monastero was the first Christian worship building in Manta and is also one of the oldest religious monuments in southern Piedmont. The shape of the apses and internal pillars places the construction of the church around the end of the eleventh century. It appears in documents however at a later date: it is in fact mentioned in two acts of donation, respectively in 1175 and 1182. At the time it was a dependency of the Abbey of Pedona, today Borgo San Dalmazzo, which boasted numerous religious foundations in the area. Next to the church there was a monastery of Benedictine monks, from which the name derives; during the sixteenth century it was destroyed and replaced by a furnace, of which no trace remains and in the fifteenth century, the church became a cemetery chapel for the wealthiest families. It was frequented by the population of the plain until 1673, when the current parish of Santa Maria degli Angeli was opened for worship; the inhabitants of the hill instead gathered in the parish church of the castle. After years of neglect, some works in the eighteenth century changed its appearance: the façade was renovated, the bell tower was constructed, and the high altar was positioned. Abandoned once again in the nineteenth century and used as a military command in the Second World War, it was rediscovered and restored at the beginning of the new millennium and today it is a place dedicated to culture.

The Church

Today, the building’s original appearance is only partially preserved: externally, the most intact part are the beautiful apses, which still show traces of the hanging arches above the mullioned windows. The gabled façade was instead rebuilt in 1760. Internally there are three naves, punctuated by four pillars made of stone with some brick inserts. Light enters the church through the openings on the façade and the single-lancet windows of the apse. The excavations in the nineties brought to light part of the original flooring: in the fifteenth century, when the church was used as a burial place, the floor had in fact been raised about 90 centimetres. The funeral function continued for centuries, as evidenced by the slab reminiscent of the burial of Francesco Franchi, dated 1539. There were many floor tombstones, unfortunately replaced with stone slabs during the restoration.

The Frescoes

The fresco decoration is mainly in the two side aisles and dates to the fifteenth century. In the left one there is a box with the representatives of the great monastic congregations: Saint Benedict and Saint Bernardine of Siena. Next to it is an Annunciation with the particular representation of the homunculus, that is, the figure of a little man descending towards Mary. It is the Child Jesus, as shown by the halo and the cross on his shoulders. It is a rather rare iconography, often cancelled in the era of Counter-Reformation.

The most important cycle is found in the right aisle. Partly torn in 1979 and placed for almost thirty years in the museums of Saluzzo and Turin, the frescoes were relocated in 2007. The cycle consists of several figures of particularly venerated saints, portrayed full-length with great attention to detail: St. Nicholas, St. Leo (patron of Manta), St. Blaise, St. James the Great and St. Benedict. On the altar a Veronica was rediscovered with Saints Peter and Paul. Next to these are narrative scenes, full of pathos: the deposition of Christ in the sepulchre, the Annunciation, the Trinity and above all the large Last Judgment on the right wall. The large box is dominated by Christ the Judge at the centre of the mandorla supported by angels: it is a majestic and terrible figure, which saves or condemns as the fluttering scrolls recall. The spectator is drawn in by the powerful and pathetic figures, but - at the same time - can only admire the refined elegance of fashion and costume data.

Datable to the Thirties of the Fifteenth century, the frescoes were created by a workshop strongly influenced by the style of the baronial hall of the nearby castle, painted a decade earlier. We are in the International Gothic period, which loves to mix the refined elegance of the courts with rough and popular features. According to the latest studies, this workforce would have also worked in the ancient church of the castle. The emblem repeated in several parts suggests the commissioners were members of the Urtica family of Verzuolo, vassals of the Marquises. Along the wall are other scenes, not all legible. We recognize the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and a box with Saint Fabiano, Saint Anthony the Abbot and a Saint Sebastian, this time represented in the guise of a noble knight.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translations: Europa 92
Copywriter and research: Laura Marino


Municipality of Manta


Loredana Conte