The ancient Dulzago abbey, devoted to St. Julius priest, a place of prayer and intense farming activity, is located on a low morainic promontory which overlooks a fertile plain crossed by the Terdoppio stream.
This religious centre was established by the canon regulars in the early l2th century and plaid a spiritual role in favour of the farmers living in this area during the Middle Ages. During the l3th century the canons, who lived according to Saint Augustine’s rule, tried to establish a small congregation and also controlled the churches of Santa Maria in Linduno and Sant’Alessandro in Besozzo. At the end of the Middle Ages, the religious centre was entrusted to the commendatory abbot Leonardo Sforza, who suppressed the canonical community and transformed the abbey into a wealthy and fertile farm.
As a production centre, the monastery accommodated the families of the farmers who tilled the ancient canonical lands; the cloister became the administrator’s house and a parish priest, elected by the commendatory abbots, managed the church. The Napoleonic suppressions abolished the “commendam” and the whole building, with its land and watercourses, was sold to the Reynier’s, a French family, and then to the Borromeo family, that promoted the rice growing activities in the abbey area. After the First World War the abbey estate was divided and the built-up area underwent a progressive demographic drop. Nowadays the small community wishes to protect and safeguard the monument, a symbol of history and faith.
VISIT OF THE TERRITORY
The Dulzago abbey is the last evidence of an ancient Roman centre, where a parish church, i.e. a religious centre with a baptistery attracting people from the villages of Caltignaga, Alzate, Cavagliano, Codemonte, Sologno and Morghengo, was located in the early Middle Ages.
The ancient village of Dulzago no longer exists, but a visit to the nearby village of Cavagliano will give you an idea of what a farming village of the late Middle Ages looked like. The houses of the working class, with the traditional court plan, were built against the hill, overlooked by the Caccia’s magnificent 15th century palace, the church of San Quirico and the feudal castle transformed into an elegant villa during the late l8th century.
Also Caltignaga has a very old castle, belonging to the Caccia family that ruled this area between the l4th and l6th century. The area is crossed by the Terdoppio stream; during the past centuries it had abundant and clear waters, rich in fish and crayfishes, and was surrounded by trees. Nowadays herons still nest on their branches.
VISIT OF THE ABBEY
Enter the abbey from the south. A gently sloping cobbled street will take you to the church of St. Julius church and the canon regulars monastery through a succession of arches and rural courtyards.
On the northern side of the basilica a short path leads you to the entrance of the priest-house. Walk past the threshold and you’ll find yourself in a small and grassy courtyard with a wonderful view of the base of the cupola, the rear side of the Romanesque apses of the religious building and the northern side of the canon regulars’ original house, where the common dormitory still exists on the first floor. Walk past the gate and on the left you’ll see the tenants’ courtyard (“corte dei pigionanti”), also know as “Abissinia”, dating back to 1760 and formed as a result of the building of the houses of wage workers, composed of a room on the ground floor and a garret on the first floor, both with fireplaces.
The old buildings of the regular rectory, ending with a higher structure made of cobbles and bricks, with 15th century Romanesque ornamental pictures, are located in front of these humble houses. An arch, supported by brick pillars, leads into the courtyard of the well, also known as the courtyard of the lay brothers because the laymen who helped the canon regulars in the fields, after abandoning worldly things, were accommodated in this area in the l3th century. On the side buildings are the closed arcades of a large cloister, where the lay brothers lived. On the right-hand side the remains of a late l5th century palace, with a cut angular tower, are still visible: it was the residence of the commendatory abbots and their administrators and was probably built at the time of Leonardo Sforza, in the second half of the 15th century. An arch facing southwards leads into the large rural courtyard, built between the 16th and the 17th century in order to set up the stables and barns, when the abbey was transformed into a big farm. In the central part of the courtyard is a drinking-trough, originally a Romanesque granite sarcophagus with an inscription dating back to the 2nd century AD. Finally walk up to the church along the abbey house, enclosing the ancient canonical cloister, that is now a private property and no visitors are allowed.
VISIT OF THE CHURCH
From the small square or churchyard, once a graveyard, you will admire the front of the church, restored in recent years, and the belfry built in the mid 18th century. The Romanesque style of the building is visible on the northern side, especially from the row of the small hanging arches of the last bay, below the dome, that was a belfry in the Middle Ages. The inside, a well-oriented basilica plan with three naves and aisles, is characterised by three consecutive bays, differently covered.
The first bay is covered by a cupola and limited by two pillars; the area between the inside façade and the pillar is divided by two arches supported by a brickwork pillar, whose 15th century decoration recalls bricks. The vault shows the coat of arms of Ferdinando dal Pozzo and a rococo decoration, dating back to 1735, representing St. Filippo Neri and St. Francesco da Paola, made by the painter Giuseppe Antonio Tosi from Oleggio, also known as “Il Cuzzio”a.
The second bay, covered by a cross vaulting, was modified as a result of the building of the side chapels of Saint Anthony from Padua and the Virgin of the Rosary. The left-hand side chapel, devoted to the Saint from Padua, was built in the late 17th century and was frescoed by the painter Francesco Belotto from Busto Arsizio. The decoration of the right-hand side chapel, with Saint Dominic and Saint Francis on the vault and a representation of the mysteries of the Rosary, Saint Charles talking to the plague victims and two Jesuits baptising some natives, dates back to the first two decades of the 18th century. The presbytery, dominated by a baroque marble altar, bought by the parish of Borgoticino in the 19th century, is covered by a cross vault with a pointed arch. Precious Romanesque frescoes, recently restored by the Piedmont Monuments and Fine Arts Office, are mainly located in the western part of the dome.
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