A menory of St Bernardino - abbey

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A menory of St Bernardino

At the Benedictine monastery of Finalpia still exist, and in good condition, six monograms of the Name of Jesus: three on the portals, two capitals in the second cloister and one on a bas-relief. Of course, it is natural to think that the presence in Finalpia of these monograms is due to the preaching in Liguria of St. Bernardino from Siena, preaching that sparked many discussions of chronological character. Even not considering his move to Genoa in 1417, it is certain that in 1418 the Albizzeschi was able to visit the whole Ligurian Riviera. Tradition relates that among the “towns" visited there was also  Finale, then virtually limited to Burgum Finarii , since the Maritima Finarii had just its modest beginnings , while the others ancient camps lived in the orbit of the larger center. It is remembered in fact even recently that St. Bernardino arrived in Finale from Albenga on a small boat and that he preached from it as a makeshift pulpit, to the population. Lacking precise chronological references we can assume that the passage of the Saint happened in the summer of 1418, since the last months of that year he spent them in Piedmont and Lombardy.
Also in his preaching in Finale, no doubt that the Saint has spread, through its original tablets, devotion to the Name of Jesus,  which he started to propagate in Milan the previous year. And if it is true, as has been written, that in the region does not remain memories of him directly,  the many monograms IHS still found a bit ' everywhere, from Finale to Toirano , from Albenga to Taggia  talk about him. That was the only time the Saint went through Finale, since when, later, he went down again in Liguria, he didn’t went towards this area, but it was enough because there he was honored with a cult, as a chapel at Gottaro dedicated to him, prove it .
From the beginning the monastery of Finalpia belonged to the Olivetan monks, who adorned the monastery with the sacred monogram, also in honor of the saint who, from the city whence they derived their origin, had been named: Siena, in fact, where Bernardino preached from the beginning until the very end and where his sermons on Name of Jesus had raised an enthusiasm without precedent, did not remained second to other cities in accepting such devotion. Between St. Bernardino and the Congregation of Monte Oliveto they had other even closer relations: aside from his friendship with the oldest Olivetan reporter, the authoritative Antonio da Barga enough to recall the membership of the  Saint to the Sienese  Brotherhood of the Disciplined of the Ladder, to which  the founders of Monte Oliveto had belonged, and above all the influence he exerted on S. Francesca Romana and its vision of the underworld, so that the new cult of the mane of Jesus  appears well assimilated by the spiritual tradition of Monte Oliveto.
Will now appear more natural that at Finalpia, both for memory of the passage of St. Bernardino, or on the initiative of the Siena Congregation of Monte Oliveto, at the new monastery initials were placed in the Name of Jesus : initials, in their capital form, already represent, as is known, a derivation, or better, a deformation of the native concept of San Bernardino, which both in its letters and in the tablets  it uses only and always this symbol in the form known trigrammatica " yhs " – of Greek origin - in Gothic lower case, which after all was the way to write in shorthand the Name of Jesus and all, especially in Italy, read and understoodd. Monograms Finalesi well indicate as a further stage of evolution as to the primitive comma or abbreviation sign, that here does not appear or appears rather cross the horizontal bar of H, to address allegations that the new symbol did forget the cross: in this way, also disappeared the other accessory elements set by St. Bernardino, the trigram as abbreviation of the name of Jesus became indecipherable and in fact, written in capital letters, was interpreted Jesus Hominum Salvator, interpretation that still lasts.
But the most interesting observations are those about the marble bas-relief, whose monogram reflects instead a more archaic and more faithful to the original form. Walled in the chancel wall of the church, in cornu Evangelii, at balustrade, where he was transported in May 1935 as a result of work undertaken on the high altar behind which was left after the building of the baroque church, overall measure
m 2.25 x 0.76. - In the upper part are represented, Christ crucified and two pious women; the scene it is framed, in a triangle shape, with gothic ornamental motifs. In the lower part opens a cavity,whose sides are four statues of saints, two on one side and two on the other. The monogram is however located at the center of an underlying plate to the rest of the composition and from this detached.
We have no information about of the original location. And for the primitive use, it is not far from the truth that the bas-relief would have served as a wall tabernacle. However, it also had to be a monument in honor of St. Bernardino, in memory of his preaching in the area. This is proved, over the monogram in Gothic letters, more accurate than those very simple on the portals, especially the two letters, also gothic, D and B that are located on the sides of the monogram itself and that we think they mean precisely Divo Bernardino .
Such an interpretation is confirmed by the similarity, since the general scheme, that the bas-relief in question presents, respecting the proportions, with contemporary mausoleum of St. Bernardino in Aquila. Although the two works represent a quite common artistic type, the depicted saints are the same and even their order is the same: indeed, in both bas-relief  in the Finale one and on the mausoleum in Aquila, lower right St. Peter, on the left St. Paul above these respectively St. John the Baptist and St. John Evangelist. We do not see a reason that, without reliance from the mausoleum bas-relief, the Saints represented are the same and appear arranged in the same order. Also on the mausoleum are the words DIVO BERNARDINO, of which the letters D and B of the bas-relief represent an obvious abbreviation. On the mausoleum the Crucifix is not missing, but is in the back, while in the front face is clearly visible the usual monogram.
Although the Bernardinian mausoleum is not directly work of Silvestro Ariscola (Sylvester dell'Aquila), the reference to its influence serves us as chronological indication: of  this master are known his multiple works during 1476-1504, when he died, while the work was completed the following year. Now, from all this it is easy to deduce that the bas-relief in Finale is later and was made in imitation of the great tomb in Aquila among other things, the letters D and B refer to the complete inscription DIVO BERNARDINO not vice versa. In no way, however as erroneously wrote Salvi, it belonged to the early church of the shrine. Such afterwardness is also, in so fairly certain,  attested , intrinsically, from poor initial conditions of the coenobium, which would not allow, in the first decades, spending for unnecessary works " prohibente loci paupertate ', and intrinsically, besides the bar intersecting the H, just called D(ivus), which, applied to the Saints, is a classic reminiscence resumed only in full Renaissance. In addition, the Christ from whose wounds spurting blood that is collected in goblets supported by angels, as seen in the upper scene, is a characteristic feature of tabernacles and newsstands renaissance.
It would remain to be seen how the type implemented in Finale bas-relief could have, from L’Aquila, to be introduced in Liguria. Meanwhile, we know that after the death of St. Bernardino took place in L'Aquila (1444), this city and Siena wanted to race together to honor the Saint. But there's more: in Aquila it existed since 1472 a monastery of Saint Mary of Succour. Everything suggests that using this and through Siena, home of Olivetani, such model have been successfully brought to Finalpia (monastery founded shortly after the one in Aquila namely in (1477) and reproduced herein as would permit the modesty of means, especially since the Olivetani not constrained to a definite monastery by the bond of stability, they move frequently from one monastery to another. The fact that the documents of the monastery does not tell us anything about the bas-relief may find a parallel in the silence about the much more important and certainly the most ancient Marian altarpiece – which not even belonged to the early church - the silence broken only a few centuries later randomly and almost furtively; moreover, even the contemporary robbiani groups we hear until long after, whereas for other jobs we are better informed.
Referring to Aquila mausoleum therefore we got the terminus a quo of the composition of the bas-relief. Regarding the terminus ad quem, we believe this is to be put towards 1520-30, not later. Besides the gothic elements of bas-relief, shows the fact that it supposes a memory still alive of the passage and preaching St. Bernardino in Liguria, since otherwise, to a greater distance from his coming, would be incomprehensible, especially with those two enigmatic letters D B, who’s meaning must instead be known to all.
After all, is part of the embellishments introduced into the Finalpia church, with the help of Del Carretto, by Don Angelo of Albenga, the worthy restorer of the sanctuary, which was there Prior between 1519 and 1534 and urged the transcription of the choral by Fr Adeodato from Monza, then illuminated by Riccio, and the works of intarsia of Fr Antonio from Venice .
These conclusions do not believe opposes the presence of Gothic characters, which, in D B letters, tend to rather bold font. What, if anything, should be attributed to some research of archaism, even now when the Roman characters were used in others monograms of the abbey: you know that the Gothic font is used throughout the century XVI .
That style now it seems even more pronounced in comparison with the Baroque of the present church, while in reality they are just Gothic friezes certainly not the general conception of the work .The scene of the Passion recalls the last Gothic period, where the plastic becomes more familiar and the divine gets closer to humans, although the figures, with a more realistic technique, are still wrapped in a footprint of decorative goticismi. On the other hand, in the ' 500 the bas-relief had not conflict in a still largely Gothic church: the two aisles added by Olivetani and in the new “ecclesia de li homini" were the newly built arches, as well as the one that opened the presbytery were pointed arches.
While not a work of great artistic value, our bas-relief denotes a certain grace and mastery: compare, for example, this bas-relief with the rudimentary capitals of the church or even with the most regular and graceful capitals of the cloister and you will see the difference, even artistic ability. It also indicates how the Olivetani in Finalpia have kept alive, with this bas-relief, the memory of their great countryman, indissolubly closely with the devotion to the Name of Jesus which he propagated in that region.

Freely translated from an article of   Dom Gregorio Penco O.S.B.

Postal Address:
Abbazia S. Maria di Finalpia
17024 Finale Ligure Pia (SV) Italy
Telephone +39 019 602 301  Fax: +39 019 604 9940
updated 10 February 2024
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