VILLAR SAN COSTANZO, San Costanzo al Monte


The San Costanzo al Monte complex, a Romanesque- Gothic jewel, is considered one of the most interesting late Medieval sacred architectural heritage. Likely built in the early IV century A.D., where Costanzo’s martyrdom took place, and enlarged during the Lombard age, this complex was subsequently affected by the Saracens’ surge of destruction, so common in lots of low Piedmont monastic centres. Traditionally, Countess Adelaide gets the praise for the recovery and restoration of the ancient romanesque church in the XI century that also mark the renaissance and additions pursued in the subsequent centuries, so rich in artistic ardour and building capabilities. In the XVII and XVIII centuries the Church decayed and flourished again, being finally transferred, during the Napoleonic age, to a local surveyor as a reward for the jobs made for the French government. The monument belongs to Provincia di Cuneo local government unit and to the Parish of “San Pietro in Vincoli” in Villar S. Costanzo.


According to the local tradition, between 303 and 305 A.D. the Theban legionary Costanzo suffered martyrdom in this very place on September the 18th, on which day Villar San Costanzo celebrates his Patron Saint nowadays. His iconography is widely worshipped in the lower Cuneo valleys among other Theban Legion martyrs. He is typically represented with the martyrdom’s palm, a sword and a white banner with red cross, which is possible to see on the XVIII century façade of the church of San Costanzo al Monte. As the story goes this saint damned and petrified some Roman soldiers as they were chasing him, transforming them into what we nowadays know as Ciciu del Villar. Today these mushroom shaped stone columns, with great geological interest, are protected in the Natural Reserve of Ciciu del Villar, a smart sport and leisure area.


Some civilian buildings annexed to the church show a rather day-to-day real dimension of San Costanzo. Specifically, a paper dated 1771 describes the southern annexed buildings as home, cattle shed and hay loft, identifying the downstream house as Casa Fracida. The north-eastern side of the church has additional buildings annexed. Among them is an oven with related drying space. Before its restoration, this oven was already in tremendously bad conditions in the mid XVIII century. The same document moreover mentions an ancient bell tower where today we see a flat belfy; on this new one’s base some Roman tiles with cold impressed marks have been found.


Also San Costanzo al Monte, as most sacred Christian architectures, is eastwards oriented. The Romanesque apses, together with the octagonal tiburium, are the most interesting artistic parts of the complex. Looking at them from the outside, the three half-round based apses are marked by lesenes ending in the upper galleries. Such galleries enclose several pillars with finely carved capitals decorated with a variety of motifs, and among them the Salomon’s knot. The apses were built with square shaped stones like grey-green gneiss. This stone is the backbone material of San Bernardo, the mount overlooking Villar San Costanzo village. Bits of coloured tiles fill the exterior with chromatic movement.


The San Costanzo al Monte church was built on two levels. The lower level is the place of the Romanesque crypt intended to host the relics of the martyr saint. Its layout reflects the same structure of the upper church and is of a rather national architectural interest. Its wide underground spaces are not so common to find elsewhere, and for this reason it can be considered as “a church under the church”. The three apses in the crypt are lightened by double embrasured arched windows. Times ago they hosted three altars dedicated to San Bernardo, San Costanzo and to the Virgin Mary. A late XVI century document proves that San Costanzo’s relics were hosted right inside the crypt where the martyr’s grave was presumably violated by a treasure hunter. Nowadays the gravestone is hosted inside the Parish Church of Villar San Costanzo.


Also inside the upper church it is possible to get to know the different building stages along the centuries. The most interesting artistic part of the church are the mid XII century Romanesque structures: the three apses, the last three eastwards oriented bays and the tiburium, while the annexed part to the western side dates back to the XIII century. Directly under the tiburium, visitors can notice a round relief motif made of marble, natural stone, bricks and lime joints. Astronomical associations of this handcrafted motif, and the possibly related use as an astronomical calculator during the church building, remain a matter of speculation. The variety of Romanesque capitals indicates a strong influence of foreign craftsmen, probably Lombard masters trained in important Milan sites at that time, like the church of Sant’Ambrogio. On the third bay pillar the joint between the two different structures is visible. The WESTERN side is on the restoration.

Introduction LIS


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translation: Europa 92


Rotary Club Cuneo