Chapel of Santa Croce

Chapel of Santa Croce   ,   Via Santa Croce 36   ,   12084   Mondovì Piazza   (CN)   Italy


The small chapel stands on the road of Vico, just outside the village of Mondovì Piazza.

It contains within its walls a priceless treasure of medieval mural painting.

The iconography of the altar wall can be considered not only very rare, but unique in European Gothic painting.

According to the scholar Grassi di S. Cristina (31) the chapel already existed in 1297 on the Prato della Fiera called the Bressani, because at it was stipulated the Convention of Monteregale with Nano, Marquis of Ceva.

The same author wrote on page 7: "The paintings that can still be seen in the Chapel of S. Croce outside the Door of Vico, let us conjecture that it belonged to the Dominican Convent, which is mentioned in that brief of January 5, 1394...".

The chapel was later dedicated to S. Magno, but the whole village that surrounds it takes the name of S. Croce.
Confirmation of this dedication is given by the triumphant depictions of the Cross found in his frescoes.
During the last restorations, carried out for the interest of the Superintendent of the Galleries Prof. Franco Mazzini, and performed from Guido Nicola's Restoration Studio, the niche on the right wall, where St. Helena is depicted, was discovered, closely linked to the tradition of the Invention of the Holy Cross.
It is right to remember here the meritorious work of all the townspeople and the Archpriest of the Cathedral, the then Don Dompè, carried out for the restoration of the masonry structures, the roof and the paving, necessary for the restoration of the building, that had been forgotten for too long.
The chapel is currently divided into two parts: the initial nucleus, up to the sub-arch, and the rest added later, together with the triangular bell tower and the portico in front.
The frescoes cover a surface of about m2 55, on the walls, on the vault and in the subarch.
The most likely date of execution is around 1470 and in any case before 1482.
An important thing that appeared during the restoration work is the design and colors of the rose window, which was freed from the overlapping colors, showed the usual red, green and yellow segments.



The vault is a cross vault with protruding ribs decorated with elegant floral designs. In the center the rose window in segments.
In the sail above the altar is represented the Christ Pantocrator in almond, with the naked body wrapped in rich mantle, and in the act of showing the wounds with a gesture of glorious appeal and a tender and smiling welcome : recalls the iconography of S. Giorgio a Campochiesa.
In the sail of left is represented the Deposition; the scene is developed in a gash of mountainous landscape that presents in its details some naivetyà suggestive: a small chamois climbs vertically along a sheer rock; a giant bird, black and white, is perched on the tip of a pine tree.
The castle, the stream, the shepherds and the flocks under the leafy trees and the white snowy peaks are the protagonists of that animated landscape, characteristic of the international Gothic.
Magical vision of a serene and enchanted landscape almost as if in opposition to a primitive happiness with the pain that cries in front of the scene.
The Christ supported under the armpits by pitiful arms is abandoned towards the Sorrowful Mother and the Pious Women. John watches mute behind an old man kneeling (Joseph of Arimathea).
In the sail of right it is represented the going to Calvary, that we can define jaquerian in the way and in the color, and Nordic in the search for the grotesque faces of the executioners of Christ.
Particularly interesting is the figure of the winged dragon that we find in the drapes hanging from the trumpets of the two characters that open the sad procession.
These dragons replace the scorpion figure that usually appears in these iconographies.
In one image we report the other dragons that have been painted (or are supposed to have been painted) by the painter in other chapels.
The presence of dragon figures is remembered the hypothesis of attribution to master Antonio according to Raineri.
In the lunette opposite to the altar , under an elegant aedicule sick is represented Christ at the column, subjected to scourging by grotesque executioners.
This iconography repeats the use of magnifying the figure of the martyred in relation to the stature of the executioners, to demonstrate the impotence in the face of holiness; impotence underlined by the serenity of the faces of the opposing martyrs. to the ferocity of the faces of the torturers.
The aedicule is decorated with a frieze of valuable workmanship that we will also find on the altar wall and in the underside.
The rose window, drawn in a precise way recalls the Celtic motif of the "trischele" (three legs) that in the primitive form we find in the coat of arms of the Trinacria.
The initial concept here is elaborated in elegant scrolls that speak the symbolic and mysterious language of medieval Gothic art.


In the subarch are represented: S. Stefano, S. Domenico, S. Francesco and S. Lorenzo.
The iconographies are the usual ones of the painting guides already illustrated.


The central representation groups together several symbols and figures in a symmetrical composition.
In general it falls within the iconography defined as "Living Cross" or "Brachial Cross".
This iconography has its origins in those economic, political and religious reasons that caused already in the Roman age a widespread hostile attitude towards Jewish communities.
The barbaric states and the Eastern Empire openly show this hostility that has been pushed to the point of capital punishment.
The reasons for this form of intolerance lie above all in the conviction that that people cannot participate at all in the great effort of purification and salvation that is the greatest concern of medieval Christianity.
The Jews who crucified Christ can only be the born enemies of Christians.
Medieval art is also affected by this spirit of repression, and introduces into the representations of the Life and Passion of Christ, the scorpion or goat symbol.
This speech was necessary to frame the iconography of the Brachial Cross of S. Croce, in that anti-Zionist mentality, so violent again in the xv and the following century.
Of this form of cross you can have different representations, with many variations, even in the composition and number of figures.
The fresco of S. Croce, compared with those cited by Reau and with the existing one in S. Petronio in Bologna presents a marked singularity: the number of subjects and symbols grouped in the same scene, while observing some common criteria of representation, is much greater in S. Croce.
One of the common iconographic elements is the hand shape extension of the four arms of the cross.
The upper arm equipped with a large key opens the golden door of a large turreted castle: Paradise or heavenly city.
From the crenellated walls faces the Eternal Father, an old man with a flowing white beard, surrounded by a crowd of angels.
An inscription, now illegible, departs from the Father towards the son.
To the left of the castle, above an elegant inlaid wooden bench, the Virgin of the Annunciation kneels, to the right the archangel Gabriel holds out the scroll with the inscription: Ave gratia piena, dominus tecum.
The figure of the crucified Christ is realized with remarkable mastery both in the anatomical drawing and in the strokes of the face.
The right arm of the cross (left for the viewer) extends into a hand that places a crown on the head of a figure of woman in religious habit, representing the Church.
It holds with the right arm a model church (of Romanesque style that could reproduce the ancient church of S. Francesco). and with the left hand holds the white cross red banner.
At his feet are represented the symbols of the Evangelists: the ox, the angel, the eagle and the lion.
The scroll that stands on the head of the Church bears the inscription:

            [s]anguine doctata est sponsa [et] vocata:
            [et] crucem ascendit qui michi [bra]ch[i]a pandit.

Behind the church there is the Madonna who points out with the index finger of her left hand a small Crucifix placed at the top of a tree, to which a snake is attached; in her open right hand she shows a pome.
The scroll on his head bears the inscription:

            [R]esero nunc etera que clauserat vobis eva
            per filium meum salvabo quenlibet reum.

The left arm of the cross (right for the observer) extends into a hand that sinks, almost to the hilt, a sword in the head of a crowned woman, which represents the Synagogue, as can still be read in the white inscription on a dark background.
She rides a headless goat and holds with her right a red banner striped with white, and with her left she holds the head of the goat, equipped with long horns.
Interesting is the shape of the spatula nose that recalls the horses of master Antonio alla Montata.
In the white strip are marked some strange symbols similar to those we will find in the coins of the shield on the right wall.
The cartouche bears the inscription:

            [I]rcorum sanguis me decepit velut anguis
            [e]go sum cechata a regno dei separata.

Behind the Synagogue is depicted Eve in the act of catching with her right hand the apple that holds with her mouth a snake wrapped in the trunk of a tree; with her left hand she holds a skull.
The scroll on his head bears the inscription:

            [Pe]r es [mun]danum destruxi genus humanum
            vos morieminy quia clausi ianua celi.

The symbol of the green Cross or Tree of Life, indicated by the Virgin is the antithesis of the Tree of Good and Evil that stands before Eve.
The skull she holds in her hand is a symbol of death and original sin.
Both the small Crucifix and the apple that shows the Virgin are the symbol of salvation and redemption from death. and original sin, symbolized by the apple and the skull of Eve.
The removal of the baroque altar during the course of the restoration confirmed the hypothesis put forward by Raineri in 1966 . of the continuation of the fourth arm of the cross fixed in the ground, in the form of a hand with a hammer He would squeal the door of limbo to free the righteous of the Old Testament.

There remain traces of a white tunic that could be that of the Risen Christ.
This painting dense with symbols represents a remarkable example of didactic art, where the story is told through images, supported and explained by the inscriptions, refers to the oldest sources of Christian doctrine and that medieval spirit of hostility towards the Jewish people.
The antithesis of good and evil, of life and death, natural and spiritual, are highlighted and made clear by the figures of Our Lady and Eve, of the Trees of Life and Good and Evil, of the Church and the Synagogue, which in representations of the Last Judgment symbolize the elect and the reprobates, and in the Crucifixion they have the same antithetical role as the sun and the moon.
All these figures are arranged in symmetrical dualism around the central figure of Christ, crucified for the redemption of man.
Eve with her sin closed the doors of Paradise, causing the death of flesh and soul; the sacrifice of Christ, which replaces the sacrifice of the goat of the ancient religion, redeems humanity from sin and restores to it the hope of salvation, mediating Our Lady and the Church the bride of Christ.
Raineri reports from the text of the Reau a list of similar iconographies:

-   Strasbourg Cathedral tympanum (13th century)
-   Miniature of "Hortus Deliciarum" (XII century)
-   Some anonymous paintings of the Museum of Cluny, in Paris, at the Museum of Beaume, at the Art Gallery of Ferrara (attributed to Garofalo)
-   Sculpted St. Martin's Gable of Landshut (1432)
-   Fresco in Brunek in Tyrol
-   Painting by Hans Fries in Fribourg, Switzerland
-   Prints on wood and Russian fresco of the xvii century in the church of St. John the Baptist in Jaroslav
-   Then remains that of S. Petronio in Bologna which we have already talked about.

At the sides of the central scene are represented two religious: the one on the right in an act of prayer in front of the Cross. with an open book leaning against a small altar.
In the book you read: Adoramus te ariste et benedicimus tibi quia per sanctam crucem [et mortem] tuam redemisti mundum: Beginning of the text of the Via Crucis.
Above his head without a halo an angel holds the red cardinal's hat.
The artist and the commissioners (and in this case the Dominicans' hypothesis is confirmed) wanted to offer a devout homage to S. Bonaventura, "Doctor seraphicus", who in 1254 together with S. Tommaso, supported with his writings the reasons of the Franciscans (remembered with the devotion of the Stations of the Cross and with the same St. Bonaventure, official biographer of St. Francis with his "Legenda nova") and the Dominicans against the claims of the rector William of St. Love, which called for the exclusion of religious from teaching in the Parisian studio.
The cardinal's hat recalls his elevation to purple in 1273 by Pope Gregory X, blessed.
The representation of St. Bonaventure without a halo justifies the supposed date for the frescoes, around 1475, since the sanctification took place in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV. The religious man on the left is Pope St. Gregory the Great, kneeling before the altar in the act of celebrating Mass.
On his head an angel holds the pontifical triune.
The iconography belongs to the representations of the so-called Mass of St. Gregory or Vision of St. Gregory. .
It is said that during the celebration of Mass, Christ appeared to the Holy Pope, coming out with his bust from the tomb, with his arms outstretched to show the wounds.
Behind him appears the Cross with all the symbols of the Passion.
This iconography of Christ is called "Christ of piety".
The representation of the Vision of St. Gregory therefore explains the great fresco on the right wall and the great diffusion of this iconography that we find in all medieval art, and in particular in the paintings of our regions.
The Christ of mercy, which we often find in small panels on the walls of the altar or as the Montata in the triangular cusps of the polyptychs, in S. Croce it assumes the dimensions of a great representation of the Passion in symbolic form.


The instruments of the Passion which served to torment and martyr Christ, and which served as weapons to his Mother to defend himself against the Devil's attack:

            Armis Passionis Christi se armavit Maria
            Quando contra Diaboli pugnam se preparavit,

are here composed in a large heraldic trophy, which together with all the other representations form a real hymn to Christology.
At the top of the lunette stands the Christ of Pietà leaning against the Cross, he comes out with his bust from the tomb and shows the plagues.
The constituent elements of the trophy in the thirteenth century were six: the crown of thorns, the column and the rods or scourges, the cross, the nails, the sponge, the spear.
To these in the xv century were added: the thirty deniers, Malco's lantern and his ear attached to Peter's knife, the veil of Veronica, the tunic, the dice, the hammer, the ladder, the pincers, the cock of denial, a head that spits, the hand that slapped Christ, the jug and the bowl of Pilate.
An ancient Latin hymn thus enunciates them in part:

            Hic acetum, fel, arundo
            Sputa, clavi, lancea,
            Dic triumphum nobilem
            Qualiter Redemptor orbis
            Immolatus vicerit.

Disseminated in the great pictorial composition of S. Croce, there are almost all these symbols and precisely: the cross, behind the shoulders of the Christ of Piety; the red tunic, on the left, supported by an angel; in its folds the dice with which it was played; on the right another angel holds a white tunic of the Risen Christ; on the left the sponge fixed on the pole is held by a lamb with its head surrounded by the halo of Christ (crusade); in the white fluttering cloth, knotted at the neck, is represented the Holy Face of Veronica; on the right a lion, likewise nimbato, holds the white Crusader red banner.
In the center a large shield is surmounted by a gorget on which rests the white drape, that the Crusader knights used to wear on the burnished helmet to mitigate the terrible heat of the Holy Land's sun.
On the top of the cloth is laid the Crown of Thorns.
In the shield are depicted all around the thirty denarii and in the center the Column with the rope with which the Christ was tied.
Starting from the left side, from top to bottom you can see: the Pitcher with Pilate's bowl; the Hammer; the Pincers; the Lance (as a dividing element); the Flagels.
On the right side: the Nails; a hand that makes a dilatory gesture; the Staircase for the Deposition (as a dividing element); the Head that spits; the Hand that slaps; the Hand with the knife of Peter.
On the top of the column there is the renegade rooster. All the floor space is filled with the pebble design.
Under the shield there is a large scroll bearing the inscription:

            [Q] uicunque homo de suis Epecicatis [rite?] confessus et contritus intuetur hec arma Domini
            nostri Jesu Christi — habet tres andos indulgelncie [auctori]tate Beati Petri Apostoli primi
            pap [e] item ex parte alliorum — triginta summorum pontificum pro qu[alibet] dies c indulgencie.
            Item Innocencius quartus confirmavit omnia — surprascripta in concilio [addeus] dies cc:
            in summa sunt annos Exil et dies ccLxxii — [It]em pro memoria [Veron]ice [dedit B. Petrus]
            quilibet predictorum pontificum dies xxxx: in summa annos tres dies CXLII.

Prof. Gasca Queirazza (34) in the publication on Dronero's Disciplinants and Recommendations on page 56 says:
            "The Pope had the power always to grant 100 days of indulgence to whomever was confessed and communicated; the Bishop had the faculty to grant 40".
The complicated calculation of indulgences therefore results:
            40 X 31 = 1240, 1240: 366 = 3 years + 142 days: for the Weapons of Christ
            30 X 100 = 3000 3000 + 200 = 3200 3200 : 366 = 8 years + 272 days, so 8 + 3 = 11 years.

To such writing were attributed thaumaturgical abilities similar to those of the sign of the Cross.
Similar iconographies can be found:

In the fifteenth century :
-   In the vault of the Abbey Church of S. Mattia in Treves.
-   In the frescoes in the chapel of the Castle of Pimpeam in Grézille.
-   In the Livre d'Heures by Jean de Montauban.
-   In the Livre d'Heures Sforza (British Museum).
-   In the tapestries of the Episcopal Museum of Angers and the Church of Nantilly.
In the sixteenth century instead :
. -   In the frescoes of the vault of the Chapel of the Sepulchre in the Cathedral of Albi.
-   In the church of the Saints of Solesmes.
-   In a frame of the Museum of Castelvecchio of Verona.

This iconography with the one above the altar demonstrates the profound cultural preparation of the religious who have addressed and suggested the work to the artist, who then made it in a very good way both for the composition than for the design and colors.


In the lunette is represented the Resurrection in the common iconographic form of the gothic diffused in the whole region.
The Christ in white tunic comes out of the sepulchre resting his foot on the edge of the uncovered bird; with his right hand blesses and with his left hand holds the white red-crossed banner.
Around them the soldiers lie deeply asleep. Even the tomb is decorated with the usual pebble-shaped filling.
In the band that runs under the two side walls are represented, within round medallions, the apostles each bearing a verse of the Creed written in white phylactery.
The initial letter of each verse è painted in red as Antonio used to do.
The newsstands instead with triangular cusps closely resemble those of the church of Montata.
Also in S. Croce, as in S. Fiorenzo di Bastia and in other cycles, we see in the place of honor and on the same level of importance the founders of the two great religious orders of the Middle Ages: Dominicans and Franciscans.
Two other important representatives of these orders are found in the niche of the left wall.
The figures of these saints appeared during the restoration work already mentioned, for the extension practiced to the niche itself.
In the center you can see the Virgin and Child; on the left St. Peter the martyr with the knife stuck across the head; on the right St. Bernardino da Siena with his arm raised (he usually holds the monogram of Christ) and on the left he holds an open book with the inscription: Pater manifestavi nomen tuum.
A second, smaller niche was discovered during the restoration.
On the back wall is painted S. Elena in princely dress near a large cross (see photo above).
A work of such value, both for the importance and uniqueness of the theme treated, and for the valuable mastery of execution, on the escort of the elements of comparison already exhaustively illustrated, has been attributed to the hand of master Antonio, as perhaps the last and highest song of his industrious life as a very valid artist.


We present for completeness the wall of the entrance, where there is a beautiful painting of the Madonna and Child. The painting is not of ancient period but we report it for the fort historical and emotional content.
There is also a sheet of paper where there is an interesting list of people (the so-called "Massari") who, with love and dedication, from 1700 to the beginning of the last century have followed and taken care of the management and conservation of the chapel.



The chapel can be visited independently through the project that has been realized by CITTA' E CATTEDRALI : "CHIESE A PORTE APERTE".

It is an experimental project (conceived by the Regional Council for Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage and the CRT Foundation) to open and visit autonomously the ecclesiastical cultural heritage of Piedmont and Aosta Valley with the help of new technologies.

After registering on the site Chiese a porte aperte you need to download the "Open Churches" app on your smartphone and get it for free from Apple Store (for iOS devices) and from Google Play (for Android devices) . Once the app is installed and authenticated, you can select the place you want to visit independently by booking the visit.
More and more detailed information at the project website Chiese a porte aperte.

From personal experience I can say that the project has been studied and realized in a truly praiseworthy way, and the booking and the visit are comfortable and simple.


Church of Santa Croce
Via Santa Croce 36
12084 Mondovì Piazza
(CN) Italy