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Abbazia di San Clemente a Casauria



Abbots, Demons, San Michele and a Sumptuous Madonna

The Capitals of San Clemente



Inside the Abbey Church of San Clemente a Casauria


History of the Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria


The Abbazia di San Clemente a Casauria (now a state museum) in the east of Abruzzo, is only a couple of minutes from the "Torre de'Passeri" exit on the A25 Autostrada heading inland from Pescara on Italy's central eastern seaboard.  The abbey lies beside the ancient road from the east coast to Naples, and this gave it the opportunity to become a great wealth accumulator and on the other side of the coin a tempting target for looters.


The main reason for dropping in is to see the fascinating narrative and decorative medieval sculpture, which is in extremely good condition despite the neglect suffered by the Abbey over the years.  With the sole exception of a Madonna and a San Michele, all the narrative sculpture relates to the abbey and its abbots - not one Godly story is illustrated!  There are also, we learned later, some good Romanesque corbels and faces, on the external apse wall (next time!).


The central doorway is a feast of historical sculpture which is described in detail below.



Abbot Leonate with an earlier four portico facade.



The main central door is richly decorated in sculpture.  The doorposts have four sculpted figures and above these, two elaborate capitals hold up the lintel (below) which depicts the story of the founding of the Abbey.  In the centre of the lunette / tympanum (above) is the figure of San Clemente in his Papal robe, with Saints Fabio and Cornelius at his right side and Abbot Leonate (above above) to his left.  The bronze doors were made (in 1191) when Abbot Iole was in charge, and are divided into 72 frames depicting various images such as crosses, abbots, rose patterns and 14 castles (and their estates) that were subjects of the Abbey.


LINK to "Abbots, Demons, San Miccele and a Sumptuous Madonna - the Capitals in the Portico of San Clemente"


Link to Medieval Bronze Doors in Italian Churches



The history of the Abbey is outlined on a plaque at the gate (here lightly edited):


The Abbazia di San Clemente a Casauria lies near the site of the ancient Roman Interpromino, a pagan place of worship, and was also perhaps built over the remains of a temple dedicated to Jupiter, the Bringer of the Winds, which led to the temple being named “Casa Urii Urios”, but it soon became known more simply as “Casauria”. 


The church with its monastery was founded by Emperor Ludovico II 871 AD, and was initially dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  The following year, 872, Pope Adriano II granted the monastery the remains of San Clemente, a martyr Pope from the late first century *.  The Abbey soon became a powerful and tempting landmark, and was sacked in 920 by the Saracens.  Between 1076 and 1097 it was sacked time and time again by the Norman Count Ugo Malmozzetto. 


During the 11 hundreds, the abbey enjoyed a period of the utmost magnificence and was restored a number of times by a series of different abbots:  Grimoaldo, Leonate and Iole. 


In 1348, the church was struck by a terrible earthquake.  It was partially restored in 1448.  One wing of the monastery was only restored as late as 1700.  In 1775 the whole building came under royal patronage and underwent a period of further damage and degradation.  The church was restored in 1891, then in the early 19 hundreds and again in 1970 and 1980 as a State Museum. 


The floor plan of the church has the Latin cross shape, divided into three naves with a single apse.  At the end of the side naves there are two small stone stairways built in the 800s, that lead down into the crypt.  The crypt is divided into two transverse naves each with nine spans and has two apse enclosures.  


In front of the façade there is a very fine portico with three arches; the central one is a round arch and the side ones are pointed, reflecting a style that is more Oriental than Burgundian Gothic in character.  In the section above the portico there are four double lancet windows which were originally in the ancient monastery and were inserted into the facade in 1448.  To the left of the portico the remains of the primitive belltower can still be seen.  



* Clement is said to have been banished by the Emperor Trajan, and eventually executed by being tied to an anchor and drowned.  Legend has it that St Cyril brought his bones to Rome in the 800s and they ended up in the Basilica of San Clemente where they still are.  The Kiev Monastery of the Caves in the Ukraine claims to have Clement's skull and other bones.  Who knows what is in the beautiful marble casket here?  



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