|A landscape of desert lowlands interrupted by stretches of water only seemingly
stagnating, in reality throbbing with life.
It's a thick network of canals and rivers flowing slowly and gently, but always ready to
star in terrible events that give back to water the lands that were so laboriously
Nowadays it's the Romea road joining Venice and Ravenna that runs through the PO delta; in
the past it was the POPILIA, the ancient way of the pilgrims that put Rome in
communication with Eastern Europe.
It was along this way, in the seventh century, perhaps already in the sixth that POMPOSA
rose. It was the abbey built by the Benedictine monks moving from CASSINO to evangelize
The choice of the place where to build the monastery was a happy one.
It's an island, the Pomposiana island, delimited by the sea and two rivers, the PO di Goro
and the Po di Volano, which lend the place a healthy climate and favour inland
In Pomposa the followers of Benedict were dedicated to prayer, study, meditation and work,
activities recalled in the famous saying "ORA ET LABORA".
The silence surrounding Pomposa was interrupted only in 874 by a letter from Pope John
VIII mentioning St. Mary of Pomposa.
Rich evidence will follow, documenting the greatness of the monastery during the
centuries, regarded as the most outstanding one in Italy during the abbacy of St. Guido,
in the first decades of the year one thousand
MONASTERIUM IN ITALIA PRIMUM.
But the Po that made it a happy island also determined its fall.
Floods and growing swampiness will lead to the slow but inexorable fall of the abbey,
which terminated with the final dismissing of the monks in 1671.
In the last decades, Pomposa has been the object of care and restoration, and now shows
itself to the world once again with the imposing evidence of its past.
|The 50-m tall bell tower rises like a giant stem almost as if to represent the
believer's yearning to the heavens.
The four faces are identical. The light tapering and the wisdom widening the openings
while moving upwards lighten the imposing size of the tower. Majestic and reddening,
it dominates the adjacent valleys and the immense flatlands.
The memorial stone recalls the year of construction and the maker: "Master Deusdedit
raised me in the year 1603".
Architecture and decoration coexist in the colonnade, just like in the tower.
The architecturally simple atrium is a masterpiece of lightness and decoration.
recovery sculptures, symbolic animals
bas-reliefs, rosettes, brickwork ribbon-like fascias. The whole is set in an only
seemingly casual way on a wall made with red and yellow bricks of different shape and
The maker of such marvel is Master Muzulone.
|The church is divided into three naves and nine bays
The two closest ones to the facade are rather larger than the others because they're the
outcome of the widening completed in 1026 during the abbacy of St. Guido.
The admirable fresco paintings decorating the walls of the major nave have a single theme
in common: the story of salvation divided in three parts: Old Testament, New Testament and
The Final Judgement can be seen in the internal facade. They're all works of art of the
The folkish and realistic eloquence with which the events are represented is evident from
the first panel of the Old Testament.
It starts with the temptation of Adam and Eve
the victory of the serpent, the Devil,
and it closes with Elia's ascent to the heavens on a chariot of fire.
The frescoes' language is so immediate that that the words of St. Gregory the Great come
to one's mind: "Painting performs for the ignorant persons the same function of
writing. The uneducated see the examples to be followed in paintings, and the people who
can't read manage to read them; the images are not placed in churches to be adored, but to
|Even the facade bas-reliefs are there to be read
and they have one idea in
common: man in its temporal and eternal dimension, and the fight between good and evil.
The union between eagle, lion and peacock symbolizes man in its earthly existence,
composed of body (the lion) and soul (the eagle). The peacock, with its gem-packed
feathers and its meat, considered incorruptible, represents the yearning for heavenly
The sun and the moon represent the passing of time that revolves around the blessing hand
of the Eternal Father.
In the cross on the right-hand side there's a lamb, the restorer of the heavenly kingdom.
In opposition to the crosses there's the dragon, the symbol of evil, and an animal that
looks like a panther, the first beast of the Apocalypse.
|In the median line of the nave the episodes of the New Testament flow like a colour
The Annunciation is followed gradually by the narration of the Gospels, up to the descent
of the Holy Ghost on Mary and the Apostles in the Cenacle.
Above the arches one finds the images of the Apocalypse: from John the Evangelist's dream
up to the imprisonment of the ancient enemy, the serpent dragon
It's the tough and violent struggle of good against evil until the final victory of good.
The floor is a mosaic that extends like a carpet from the entrance to the altar, and leads
one to raise his eyes to the apsidal semi-dome where the narration of the wall frescoes
finishes, anticipated by the symbols of the facade.
This is where Vitale da Bologna placed the epilogue of human history.
Christ, sitting in the throne of his glory is enclosed in a mandorla with the colours of
the rainbow and a sky scattered with stars. Around him, musician angels and the multitudes
of the chosen ones.
The images impose themselves thanks to their intensity and the richness of the details,
from Christ's harsh face to the distraction of the angels whose curiosity is arisen by the
procession opened by the Virgin Mary with St. Benedict.
The Abbot Andrea is kneeling down. He ordered the work of art in 1351.
It's a representation of Heaven. This is confirmed by the words on the scroll held by the
angel: "blissful are the eyes of those that see what you are looking at".
The narratives of St. Eustachio are on the base of the apse.
The face of Christ appeared one day in front of Eustachio, a Roman soldier, while he was
hunting. The sight marked the soldier's life: he converted and was baptized with his wife
Teopista and the two sons.
It looks like the beginning of a happy tale
but here came the pirates that pillaged
his house and kidnapped his wife
a wolf captured one of his sons, while the other
one was attacked by a lion.
Following these events Eustachio collapsed into desperate and anguished tears.
Twenty years later the unlucky persons miraculously met once again.
Tribulations seemed to have stopped, but
Eustachio refused to sacrifice to the gods
and was therefore condemned to be torn to pieces by a lion, with his wife and sons.
But the beast dared not touch them, so the emperor ordered them to be closed in a
The story, a painted tale, finishes with the depicting of the martyrs' face sweetness in
the sleep of death and in the beatitude of their souls taken to the heavens by the angels.
S. Eustachio is considered all over Italy as the patron saint of the hunters, together
with St. Hubert, but around Pomposa the folkish wisdom decided differently. In fact the
saint is invoked to find lost things, and it is said that Eustachio never disappoints
|The Chapter House is in the courtyard, beside the church.
The beautiful brickwork portal and the two biforate windows underline the importance of
this area where the chapter, the senate of the monastery, use to gather.
The wall in front is decorated with the Crucifixion, and the two apostles Peter and Paul
are on the sides with Benedict and St. Guido.
The twelve prophets' monochromy contrasts the lively polychromy of the Crucifixion and the
images of the Saints, to signify two separate periods: before and after the coming of the
|Pomposa's economic power was great: an immense richness, distributed in many dioceses.
It included salt-works, fishing valleys, woods, vineyards, grazing lands, crop lands.
The sign of this earthly power is the palace of the Law, in which the abbot ruled justice;
in fact, either for imperial or ecclesiastic appointment, he was the highest political
authority on the island.
|The monks used to have their meals in the refectory in absolute silence, the only
sound being the voice of the monk appointed to read the sacred scriptures.
Recently recovered wide spaces offer a good evidence of the purely decorative paintings
embellishing the walls.
In the bottom wall there are three beautiful paintings by Pietro da Rimini, dating back to
the first decades of the fourteenth century.
The last supper
The Redeemer between the Virgin Mary and the Baptist, Benedict and Guido.
The miracle shows St. Guido, abbot of Pomposa, giving hospitality to Gebeardo, the
Archbishop of Ravenna; on that occasion he miraculously changed water into wine.
The representation of the characters' state of mind is admirable; it goes from Gebeardo's
marvelled surprise to the astonishment of the three gentlemen composing his retinue
from the abbot saint's meditative calmness to the absorbed contemplation by the monks, in
no way surprised by the event.
|Offended by time and refurbishment, this monk is the evidence of Pomposa's greatest
Books that the monks carefully and lovingly gathered and kept, annotating, copying and
decorating them with miniatures.
Books that gathered not only the word of God and the Fathers of the Church, but also the
ancients' knowledge and spirit of life.
The true soul of Pomposa was and still is its cultural greatness, particularly the
contribution to the birth of Humanism, which constitutes the beginning of modern
The library of Pomposa was extremely rich, and even Rome, the centre of the world, could
not match it.
And here came the ancient devotees.
The Venetian pre-humanists Lovato Lovati and Albertino Mussato came to Pomposa to free the
glorious fathers, Horace, Titus Livius, Seneca and Cicero, guests within the monastery
walls, to give them to Petrarch, the father of Humanism.
But it wasn't only through books that Pomposa spoke with the world.
Within these walls everything pushes towards meditation and communication, like the bell
tower that imposes itself even where the sound of its bells cannot be heard; in fact it
has always been a reference point for the ships crossing the Adriatic, and for the people
crossing the large stretch of land around it.
The man of today is a victim of the violence of sounds, lights, colours and images, which
have a charm that is flattering yet deceptive.
Pomposa offers this man an invitation to silence, to give way to thought, listen to the
voices of other men and nature and talk with them.
In the world of the Middle Ages that was said to be shrouded in darkness, Pomposa was the
cinema, the television, the book, the newspaper with its animals, its stories, the
miracles, the devils, the angels and the saints that were contemplated by monks and
believers with ecstasy and pleasure.
And while eyes stopped to read the sacred scriptures on the paintings, mind started to
imagine new skies and lands. Music filled the heart with joy, and the soul joined the
choir of the angels.
|Yes, music! Because it was in Pomposa that Guido the monk invented the musical notes
whose harmony accompanies the chant
"Just like the stars give way to day one
after another, so the verses of the psalms come out of the monk's mouth one after another,
like from a spring".
These are words by St. Pier Damiani; while talking with Dante in Paradise, he recalls with
immense pleasure his stay in Pomposa, and calls it:
THE HOUSE OF OUR LADY ON THE ADRIAN SEA
Dante, Paradise, XXI, 121-123