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Basilica e Battistero di San Vincenzo (Complesso di Galliano)

Via San Vincenzo, Cantù

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History and Architecture

The monumental complex of Galliano stands in the hamlet of the same name in the municipality of Cantù, in an area of morainic hills. Owing to its strategic position, the Galliano hill was inhabited since pre-Roman times by populations of Gallo-Celtic origin and some tablets dedicated to the Matronae of the Celtic era show that Galliano had been a place of worship ever since its origins. With the process of the evangelization of Lombardy set in motion by Bishop Ambrose in the 4th century, Christianity reached Galliano too. The Christian community organized itself and built a first, hall church. The spread of Christianity increased the religious importance of Galliano, which became a capo-pieve, or church with a baptistery upon which other churches depended. Between the 7th and 8th century the church was enlarged to meet the needs of a growing community. The beginning of the second millennium brought a moment of splendour for Galliano, when Aribert of Intimiano, future bishop of Milan, promoted the renovation and decoration of the building. In the 12th century the village of Cantù went through a period of strong growth at the expense of the more outlying Galliano, which was progressively abandoned. This marked the beginning of a phase of decline that saw the basilica converted into a storehouse and, subsequently, a farmhouse, until it was acquired by private individuals and deconsecrated in 1801. However, one factor that managed to preserve, at least in part, the basilica in Galliano as a place of worship was the popular devotion for the image of the Nursing Madonna frescoed in the crypt. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the basilica of Galliano was placed on the official list of national monuments, and in May 1909 it was sold by its owner to the municipality of Cantù: work began on the long process of restoration of the building, which only came to an end in 1986. The layout of the basilica of San Vincenzo is of clear Romanesque origin, with a nave and two aisles with apses, one of which has been lost. On the outside, note the typical gabled façade that echoes the slope of the roof and has a salient form, i.e. one that follows the different heights of the nave and aisles. The wall of the façade is very plain and has a small circular oculus, an upper opening in the shape of a cross and one single-light window low down on the left. The outer wall of the apse is decorated with blind round arches. The interior of the basilica is illuminated by small single-light windows, most of which are located in the upper part of the nave and on the wall of the apse. The space inside is divided into a nave and two aisles by solid pillars that support round arches of different sizes. The arches are of fairly modest height and, consequently, the surface of the wall above is very large. The predominance of the masses of masonry over the empty spaces is a typical characteristic of Romanesque architecture and here has permitted the execution of splendid cycles of frescoes. A distinctive element of this basilica is the way that the presbytery is raised a considerable height above the floor of the rest of the building – much more than is usual in Romanesque churches – with access provided by a broad flight of steps in the middle. The entrance archway of the large vaulted apse echoes the stylistic feature of the triumphal arch, typical of classical Roman architecture. At the sides of the presbytery are located the entrances to the crypt, with two spaces covered by cross vaults. In fact it is because of the presence of the crypt underneath that the presbytery is raised so high. The presbyterial area is the most unusual part of the church from an architectural point of view, for its height, for its frescoed parapet and, originally, for the ambons that were positioned above the entrances of the crypt, of which all that remains today is a splendid sculpture of an eagle. Overall, however, the internal and external structure of the basilica is characterized by its simplicity and sobriety. This impression is reinforced by the absence of certain elements that are present in numerous Romanesque churches and usually increase their spatial complexity: missing, in fact, are the women’s galleries above the aisles, the transept and, consequently, the dome and lantern that were normally built above the intersection between nave and transept.

Hours of opening to the public

Summer opening hours (April to September): Tuesday to Friday: 3-6 pm; Saturday – Sunday: 9:30-12 am, 3-6 pm. Winter opening hours (October to March): Tuesday to Friday: 3-5 pm; Saturday-Sunday: 9:30-12 am, 3-5 pm.