The Baptismal church of Maderno

The Baptismal church of Maderno

The territory of Maderno, at about 37 km from Brescia, faces upon a gulf in the lake and proceeds in the hinterland with hills and small mountains. In Roman times, the centre was crossed by a branch of the via Gallica that connected Brescia with Upper Garda; the importance of the site in the imperial age is proved by the large numbers of epigraphies and sculptures of the Flavian age reutilized in the Romanesque façade of the church of Sant’Andrea. In the Middle Ages, Maderno became the seat of the bishop’s court, perhaps developed on an ancient “royal court”.
The baptismal church is cited in 1041; the confines of its restricted territory were the river Bornico to the south that separated it from the baptismal church of Salò, whilst the baptismal church of Toscolano extended its jurisdiction even to the south of the torrent Toscolano with the chapel of San Benedetto at the bridge.
In the Romanesque age there are recorded other churches, presumably of monastic foundation such as San Faustino and Giovita of Maclino, documented in the investiture registries of the bishop Berardo Maggi at the end of the XIiIth century, or as the outcome of political and territorial expansion by authorities relatively distant such as the bishop of Cremona, who possessed not just land holdings in the Garda area but also a chapel at Monte Maderno entitled to Sant’Imerio, cited in 1196.
San Martino at Monte Maderno, without documentary attestations, has a circular plan with an ample reuse of Roman brick in the portico of the XVIIth century, and could be connected with early medieval times and to the presence of a defensive structure on the hill, of which nothing has remained due to recent earth removals in the area.

Quarter: Maderno; address Piazza San Marco

Sant’Andrea rises close to the port of the gulf of Maderno: the square that separated it from lake was realised in the XIXth century, amplifying the ancient churchyard; the Benemati road, alongside the church corresponds the ancient Via Regia, that retraced that of the earlier Roman road: that left the lakeside at Maderno carrying on halfway up the hillside towards Verona and Brescia passing through Salò, Toscolano and Gargnano; the importance of this road influenced the plan of the church, that appears orientated to the north-east.
The entitlement of the church points to a late antiquity foundation, perhaps in relation to the gift of a small particle of a relic of the apostle Andrea that was presumed to have been brought to Brescia by the bishop Filastrio in the second half of the IVth century; some liturgical elements, reused in the Romanesque walls, document its existence in the VIIIth century; the first citation of the church, accompanied by an indication of its rank as a baptismal church, is from 1040. In 1282 Berardo Maggi, relaunching the bishop’s authority, proceeds to an inventio of the relics of Sant’Ercolano, bishop of Brescia who died at Campione in 576: the news of the burial of Ercolano was added to the martyrology of the XI-XIIth centuries of Brescia, Verona and Trento and in the interior of the church all the figurative testimonies to the bishop saint appear later than the end of the XIIIth century: it is possible that between the VIth and the VIIth centuries the apostolic relics attracted the deposition of the mortal remains of the bishop; progressively the church was enriched with other relics, until it arrived at the consistency enlisted in 1342, that included the remains of the bishops Felice, Ursicino and Faustino.
In 1825 the consecration – after a very long period of construction – of Sant’Andrea Nuovo, built on the site of the medieval castle of Maderno, that later became the house of the Podestà (town magistrate) that was destroyed by a fire (1645), marked the end of the liturgical role of the Romanesque basilica: the new Romantic and historicist climate of the times and the illustrious testimony of the history of Maderno saved the building from its planned demolition.
The investigation of the building is partial: in 2002 a stratigraphic analysis of the elevations was done but there has been no archaeological excavation, even though it is plausible that the area has a high potentiality of significant remains, both within the church and in the area to the east of the rectory, even though it was where the lateral chapels of the XVIth century were built.
The visible structures and the observable traces allow the individuation of at least two constructive phases: to the earliest (XIth century) the perimeter walls along Benemati road, a portion of the perimeter walls corresponding to the bell tower and the crypt; to a successive phase, perhaps in the second quarter of the XIIth century, the building was rebuilt with a basilica plan with one apse, with a system alternate of columns and pillars with a rich sculptural decoration connected however to more archaic models: those of the Lombard tradition of the XIth century from Milan to Piacenza and Rivolta d’Adda.
In the mid fifteenth century, the intermediate columns were removed and large rounded arches imposed on the pillars, the wooden roof was substituted by groin vaults, whilst to 1567 dates the reconstruction of the area of the presbytery with linear walls and a cupola roof. A few years later (1580) Carlo Borromeo imposed the demolition of the crypt and the opening of lateral chapels in which were placed the minor altars and the mortal remains of Sant’Ercolano. From the end of the XIXth century the condition of the building, compromised by the lack of roof maintenance, and a sensibility towards the removal of modern additions to restore the building to its original Romanesque state, led to a series of restorations that significantly altered the church and that in 1959-1962 led to the rebuilding of the crypt and the demolition of the first chapel on the southern side.
The architectonic interventions were accompanied by new pictorial decorations, starting from the late XIVth century, in part associated with the numerous secondary altars (eight) aligned along the lateral naves. The presence at Manerba of the Council of the Community of the Riviera and of the representative of the “dominante” (from time to time Milan or Venice) favoured until the mid fifteenth century the commission of artistic works at Sant’Andrea: undoubtedly the most prestigious work is the small painting of Paolo Veneziano, the Madonnacon il Bambino in trono e due offerenti, commissioned by Andrea Zeno (1347), that documents the intense Venetian influence at Garda and more in general in the whole of the Brescian territory.
The basilica was an integral part together with the rectories (that the medieval sources cite asporticusand the laubia) and with all probability the baptistry, parallel to the church and separated from it by the canonical courtyard, substituted in the XIXth century by the actual Marian oratory: a photograph of the late XIXth century still shows the thirteenth century bossed wall that closed the rectory.

The Structures

The building presents a basilica plan with three naves and a heightened presbytery over an oratory crypt and it is the outcome of a complex genesis and profound transformations that follow one another from 1580 to the sixties of the XXth century.
The prospect with a broken profile is characterized by ashlar masonry using large stone blocks already bossed before being used, red ammonitic stone and a grey stone coming from the nearby quarry of Seasso (in the territory of Toscolano, now finished but once furnished the stone for the building of the cathedral of Salò).The central part is dominated by a rich plastic articulation: the portal, framed by a complex system of semi-columns and pilasters and surmounted by a single stepped window, and contained in a sort of prothyrum, a solution of Lombard architecture that has comparisons at Pavia, in San Pietro inCiel d’Oro and at the Sacra of San Michele at the entrance to the Val di Susa. At the same time spurred buttresses, on which were imposed the semicolumns that framed the central corp of the façadeconstituted an element that is more common in Verona (from San Zeno to the Cathedral between the twenties and the end of the thirties of the XIIth century) than in Lombardy (where they are known in the apse of San Giovanni in Conca at Milan, of uncertain date between the second half of the XIth century and the beginning of the XIIth century).The heterogeneous sculptural decoration on the one hand is characterized by a precise recovery of classical themes evident in the notable Corinthian capitals, on the other hand it in the reliefs it draws heavily on an iconography of complex religious and moral significance, sometimes not understood or represented in an imprecise manner, in that they suggest a prevalent interest in the aesthetic-decorative aspects. The execution was probably by Lombard craftsmen helped by a local workforce, recognizable for a language less adjourned and refined comparable to that of the apse of San Zeno of Lonato. The lunette of the portal has a representation of the Madonna con il Bambino fra Due Santi, in a highly degraded condition, presumably with Andrea at left (recognizable for the beard) and Ercolano at right, individuated for the traces of the mitre; a sequence of saints is represented on the architrave and also in this case it is possible to identify the bishop saint. In both cases they are posterior to the Romanesque façade, ascribable to at least the end of the thirteenth century.
There is a massive reutilization of Roman spolia in the façade, easily found thanks to the capillary settlements of the Roman age in the area: the architectonic elements and the religious and celebratory reliefs, all rigorously placed upside down, as a symbol of the victory over paganism, attracted the attention of the humanists, who were numerous in the XVth and XVIth centuries who left precise descriptions.


The perimeter along Benemati road has bossed walling regularly aligned, divided up by pilasters surmounted by cornices with small brick arches; at the eastern end there are inserted walling using square stone blocks at the head of the lateral nave and it is possible to observe the modanated base of the Romanesque phase of the central apse on which is anchored the quadrangular XVIth century presbytery.
Within the church, the naves are now separated by three couples of supports, quadrangular pillars with reclining semi-columns; in the original plan the pillars were alternated with columns according to a typology diffused in the area of Verona (San Zeno Maggiore, San Lorenzo in the city, San Floriano Valpollicella, San Pietro di Villanova, Madonna della Strà). The roofing was originally wooden – apart perhaps from over the presbytery, for which it was possible a roof with groin vaulting – and only in the XV-XVIth centuries the wooden ones were replaced with brick vaulting.
In correspondence with the third couple of pilasters was imposed the western wall of the crypt, fruit of the 1959-1962 restoration; the entrance was through two stairways in the central nave, whilst the presbytery was connected to the nave by two steps in the lateral naves. In the crypt there are partially conserved the walls divided up by semi-columns leaning against pilasters, the system of support is part of the twentieth century restoration. At the centre of the apse there was a single splayed window orientated towards the east and for this reason offset as regards to the room; under the window was the altar of which the base is still recognizable. At the centre of the crypt there is the cover of the sarcophagus of Sant’Ercolano, that until the sixties of the last century, bore an image of the saint, on the base of the photographs, it seems to be from the end of the XIIIth century and was presumably realised in occasion of the inventio of Berardo Maggi.


The decorative trappings, bearing moral and religious significances, were predominantly sculptural: the capitals of the pillars are characterized by a complex repertory of interlaced motifs, zoomorphic elements and the return to Corinthian models that finds precise comparisons in the churches of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio, of Piacenza (San Savino) and of San Sigismondo at Rivolta d’Adda, datable from the mid-XIth century to the beginning of the XIIth century. Equally significant are the keystones of the arches in the presbytery, where demoniac and human figures are contraposed to indicate the ideals of a reformed religious life. As in the façade, the interior displays references and heterogeneous qualities that denounce the presence of different groups of skilled craftsmen.
On the basis of the remaining traces it is possible to hypothesize that the decoration of the nave was principally sculptural and to the finishing of the wall surfaces: there rest, in fact, ample remains of a complex finishing imitating a wall in ashlar with alternate blocks coloured red, white and grey that was realised directly on the wall or on a very thin preparatory base. Equally, red, blue and black layers covered the architectonic elements; even though it is not excluded integrations during the nineteenth century restorations, the colour was an integral part of Romanesque decoration. Differently, there don’t remain traces of scenes or figures prior to the end of the XIIth century and prevalently it is possible to date the pictorial decoration to the mid-XIVth century. Other XVth century interventions merit a particular attention such as the noteworthy San Sebastianonear to the end of the left nave.
In the centuries the demands of the cult of Sant’Andrea led to the multiplication of minor altars; in the visit of Carlo Borromeo eight were recorded, of which one external to the church. The decrees of apostolic visit of 1580 imposed a radical transformation of the church and its compliance with theregulations of the Council of Trento: the crypt was demolished to guarantee a vision of the altar by the part of the congregation and for their participation in the Eucharist, the lateral chapels were built to contain the minor altars anda new late Manieristic decoration with ample use of stucco and murals according to a scheme transmitted by the bishop of Milan; the mortal remains of Sant’Ercolano was transferred to a new altar, accompanied by an epigraph still visible in north nave, whilst the reliques placed ona sumptuous altar in the new parish church. Also the altarpiece was renewed in this occasion and the church was endowed with pictures of the Venetian school in part transferred in the XIXth century to Sant’Andrea Nuovo.

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Middle ages on Garda