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Monumenti&Musei: The city centre

The Parish Church

The Parish Church is the oldest religious building in San Leo and in the entire Montefeltro area. It is the first tangible sign of the spreading of Christendom in the region, the starting point of a history in which religion and traditions are closely intertwined.
Orario di apertura 9.30-12.30 e 14.30-19.00


The Parish Church

San Leo’s Parish Church can be conceived, metaphorically, as a ship of stone wrecked on a rocky reef, clinging forever to the rock. It stands on a reef jutting out from the rocky peak on which the entire city lies. This explains why, at the East and at the West, under the naves are two crypts: the first one called confessional and the second one called Saint Leo’s Sacellum, featuring the remains of a construction carved in the stone and similar to an apse, that can be reached through a door on the façade.
Recessed in a single-light window is the lid of a sarcophagus, depicting two peacocks drinking from a wide water basin. This the oldest element of the entire building, together with the reliefs carved in the stone in the southern area of the Church, probably dating back to much earlier than the 8th century.
The cathedral-like plan of the Church features outer walls made of bricks, ashlars, sandstone and stones of different types and decorated with small pilaster strips. The profile of these apses is slightly curved and supported by hanging arches of ashlars and bricks, laying on small bases alternating in groups of three between each pillar. The main apse is quite broad, twice bigger than the other two, which are incorporated in the main apse’s structure each for one third of their perimeter. This particular structure is a pattern typical of Romanesque style, and can also be observed in the nearby Cathedral.
According to scholars there were arches on the façade and on the two sides of the church, probably destroyed over the centuries. The façade, rising just above the rocky peak, features five strong butresses: the central one is interrupted by the two-light window at the centre the façade. The entrance doors have been opened on the sides of the building and both feature round-arch portals with a faux loggia on the top of them. Their archivolts are decorated with bicolour pillars, a clear reference to the Byzantine style churches we can admire in the nearby city of Ravenna.
The inside of the Church has a Latin cross plan with wound arches based on supports that divide the nave from the aisles. Supports alternate in a carefully planned way, following a pattern of two columns and two pillars, followed by a column and a pillar. This pattern is typical of French Medieval architecture.
All of the six columns were part of buildings from the Roman or late Roman times and were reused here with different purposes. The same applies to the four Corinthian capitals on top of the nave and aisles (dating back to a period going from the 1st and the 4th century).
The church’s inner walls were most likely plastered and partly decorated with paintings and frescoes from different times. Unfortunately, the painted decorations were clumsily destroyed during the restoration works in the 30s.
The projecting chancel, right above the crypt features in the central apse a valuable ciborium, dating back to 882 AD. According to an inscription in the ciborium it was dedicated from Orso to Virgin Mary :«AD HONORE (M) D (OMI) NOSTRI IH (ES) U XP (IST) I ET S (AN) C (T) E D (E) I IENETRICIS SE (M) P (ER)/QUE VIRGINIS MARIE. ECO QUIDEM URSUS PECCATOR/DUX IUSSIT ROGO VOS OM(NE) S QUI HUNC LEGITIS ORATE P(RO) ME/TEMPORIBUS DOM(I) NO IOH(ANNIS) P (A) P (E) ET KAROLI TERTIO IMP (ERATORIS) IND(ICTIONE) XV/». (In honour of The Lord, our God Jesus Christ, and of the Holy mother of God, The Always Virgin Mary, I, Duke Orso, a sinner, commissioned this piece of art. I beg all of you who read this, pray for me. Made during the reign of Pope John and Emperor Charles III, in Indiction XV).
Historians used it to date the entire building, although some architectural elements lead them to date the Church construction to the 11th century. Among these eminently Romanesque details are the regular patterns of the walls and the use of early medieval sculptures, like the pilasters in the outer faux loggias coming from the Chancel’s perimeter, similar to the ones that can be found in the Ciborium. 
 The Carolingian building was probably destroyed following a dramatic event, most likely an earthquake, and was later totally rebuilt in Romanesque style some time after the long-expected and much dreaded year 1000 AD.
The Parish Church is today one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in central Italy: together with the nearby cathedral and bell tower it reminds us of the “square of miracles” in Pisa.
 
Opening time: 9.30-12.30/14.30-19.00




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