It continues to rain. We are trying to not let it upset our plans. We have three ancient churches from the 10th to the 12th century to explore today. One thing about having such esoteric taste, you’re not liable to run into any crowds. In fact I would be surprised if there were anyone but us in all these places.
The countryside is flooded. There must have been a good deal of rain before we got here and now these latest storms are adding to the total. We pass by farmhouses stranded on little isles in a sea of brown water.
A farm house in a sea of muddy water
This area has been inhabited for a long, long time. The Romans built their houses and temples over previous houses and temples, and early Christians built on top of that. In the 4th century Constantine declared Christianity legal and the building of churches began in earnest. Very few of those early churches survive as they have burnt down, been sacked or have been carried away in floods. Coming across anything from the 11th to 13th century is rare and this area has a least three partially surviving churches. The first church we go to is the Abbey of Santa Maria Maggiore in Summaga.
Abbey of Santa Maria Maggiore, view from the front
Although the church has a 17th century facade, the body of the church is from 1211.
Central nave of Abbey of Santa Maria Maggiore in Summaga
There is no one here but the door is open so we go in. Down the left side of the church are various martyrs standing in amongst a bunch of cattle. I have no idea what the cattle signify but you can tell that they are martyrs because they carry the palm frond.
Martyrs and cattle
Close up of martyr with cattle
Above and surrounding the altar are the Virgin and Child and beneath them Christ and the twelve Apostles. They are in pretty good shape considering that they were frescoed in the 13th century.
There is a lot to look at. Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, the Crucifixion, the Redemption. It’s also nice to be able to walk around taking pictures without someone coming after you saying “NO FOTO.”
Leaving Summaga we head for Concordia Sagittaria, a Latin sounding name indeed. As we get out of the car the skies open and thunder starts. Perhaps this is an indiscreet comment on our visiting churches. This complex consists of an archaeological dig which holds the 350 A.D. chapel which held the remains of the Holy Martyrs of Concordia killed by the Emperor Diocletian in 304 A.D. There is a cross-shaped recess that held the relics.
Trichora with cross-shaped chamber for relics of the Holy Martyrs of Concordia
We also visit the cathedral which is dedicated to St. Stephen. It is the third cathedral built on the site and was erected in the second half of the tenth century. It is a large structure that we don’t have too much time to explore since it is time for the holy Italian lunchtime and the cathedral must close.
Cathedral in Concordia Sagittaria dedicated to St. Stephen
One of the buildings that we do have time to explore is the baptistry which lies between the cathedral and the excavations. It is a small bulding built in the shape of a Greek cross sometime between 1089 and 1105.
Baptistry at Concordia Sagittaria
The ceiling is covered in frescoes. Here are three well-preserved ones.
Fresco of St. George off to slay a dragon on his steed
St. Peter holding his keys
St. Mark writing his gospel with his ever-present lion
The rain has abated somewhat and we are off to our third visit before we head to tonight’s lodgings. It is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary Sesto al Reghena. It’s situated on a little island with a moat around it. As we drive up towards the gate it all looks very promising.
Entrance into the abbey complex
We buy a parking ticket and walk through the gate and up to the church entrance. There is an elaborate portico with frescoes. I especially like one with a serpent body attached to a very glam looking head.
Mary next to the door of the church with fresco above
Close-up of serpent
But the door is locked. It is 12:45 PM and everything is closed for the sacred Italian lunch break from noon until 3 PM!
Off we go to find a place to have a very slow lunch. Jack, our GPS, finds a ristorante and we are ushered in. There are plenty of people in the restaurant but we are put in a room by ourselves. Odd. Then there are no menus. Just the waitperson telling what’s for lunch. Now we are no strangers to Italian dishes when we see them written down but when they are rattled off in rapid fire Italian, we ourselves are a bit rattled. But we order some pasta and a salad and even have dessert trying to fill the two hours until the Abbey reopens.
Our solitary dining room
All the salads around here always contain radicchio
Mary’s tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
John’s penne with sausage, radicchio and montasio cheese
Our dessert, a piece of ricotta cheesecake with chocolate (why?)
We arrive back at the Abbey at about 3:05 PM to find it still locked. As we search around to find someone to ask about this, the door finally opens at 3:15 PM. Apparently 3 hours is not quite long enough for lunch.
We are ushered in, buy our tickets and I snap one picture when I am told NO FOTO. I say, no flash? NO FLASH, NO FOTO! Sigh. There are many great frescoes here. We buy a book with pictures since we cannot take any of our own. It is probably what they want you to do.
Inside of Abbey church
It’s getting late and we want to get to our next overnight before it gets dark. It is also raining (again/still). We find the B and B where we are the only guests. Our host does not speak much English. The whole place is a bit rustic but we are tired and collapse for the night.
Our room at the Al Pic de Corone in Terzo d’Aquileia