The Cathedral of Asti is unique for a couple of reasons; namely, its verticality and its heavy reliance on the use of frescoes. Constructed between the years 1309 and 1354 over the ruins of a pre-existing church, this massive complex is a stylized interpretation of both Gothic and Romanesque architecture; incorporating the familiar brick exterior common to many churches in the Northern Italian region of Lombardy.
It is recognized today as the episcopal seat of Asti, being that it is the largest church in the city, and it is dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady. Tradition says that the original church, now replaced by this one, is where Pope Urban II came to preach the First Crusade shortly after convening the Council of Clermont, which was itself a major catalyst for the Crusades.
Standing at an impressive 24 meters high, you might expect the cathedral’s many frescoes to be indistinguishable at a distance. In fact, the opposite is true however, as these frescoes which cover the vast majority of the walls and ceiling are absolutely massive in size; and are perhaps some of the largest you’ll find anywhere in Italy. Unlike many frescoes I have seen, these have not yet been restored, and thus appear in their original state; remarkably well preserved in spite of some mild degradation since their commissioning in the mid 1700’s.
What surprises me most about them is how they have been incorporated into the pillars of the church itself by means of a unique floral pattern. It’s a distinctive characteristic and one which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
The floor of the cathedral is said to be from the original church built prior to this one; and thus it is possible that Pope Urban II himself once walked these halls.
Throughout the main body of the church one can find several artistic marvels worth mentioning, to include the occasional side altar, dedicated shrine, and renaissance painting, one of which depicts the espousal of Saint Joseph and Our Lady. Most of these side altars are further embellished by frescoes depicting a variety of saints, a design choice which aligns very well to the overall theme of this cathedral.
Like many churches of the medieval period, the Cathedral of Asti tends to feel less like a place of worship and more like a fortress. The solid construction, the imposing lines, and the lack of artificial lighting do much to accentuate this feeling. It was perhaps an appropriate location therefore for Pope Urban II to begin calls for what would eventually become known as the First Crusade.
As I’ve said before, there are some churches which express the Faith in it’s beauty, and others in its simplicity. This one would seem to add a third category however; that is, the faith in its militancy.