The Jewel in Valpolicella's Crown
April 1, 2006
Photos and text by Michael Reis
Located among the lush hills of Valpolicella, Italy, the Church of San Giorgio Ingannapoltron has undergone several transformations over the centuries, and the existing structure contains work for a range of time periods. Included are stone walls from its original construction in the eighth century as well stonework from its 11th century reconstruction and - following some architectural insensitive modifications - a 20th century interior restoration to its former state.
The church, which was constructed between 712 and 744, sits atop a hill and above archaeological remains of previous sanctuaries of the Roman period, when central and western Valpolicella was still inhabited by the Arusnati. Material from those earlier structures was re-used in the building of the Christian edifice, both in Longobard times between 712 and 744, during the reign of Liutprando, when it was founded, and during the Romanesque period, when it was partially reconstructed after the earthquake of 1117.
The degree of rebuilding after the earthquake is somewhat disputed. Most historians agree that the eastern side of the building dates to the Romanesque period of the earthquake, including the cloister and the bell tower. However, it is unclear how much of the eighth century stonework remains on the church's western side The church, like its storied neighbors in this classical village, is built entirely with marble taken from the surrounding countryside, including stone taken from quarries operated by the Romans. Today, these materials are sold commercially as â€œRosso Verona marble,â€ which has many different varieties and is among the most storied stones in the world.
Like many of the churches of central Europe, San Giorgio Ingannapoltron has two apses and conserves walling devices that suggest their dating from Longobard times, like the ciborium. The church still houses the ancient ciborium - a chalice-like vessel used to contain the Blessed Sacrament - carved during the eighth century by the master sculptor Orso and his pupils, Gioventino and Gioviano. This ciborium, like the church itself, was carved from local marble.
During rebuilding efforts of the church, much of the stonework was reutilized, including two large memorial stones and the remains of funeral altars along the driveway flanking the church and leading to the Valpolicella road. However, some of the interior modifications over the years were insensitive to the historic architecture of the church, and its Romanesque style was steadily eliminated. Even the original capitals were re-carved or replaced. Within the last 50 years, however, work was carried out to restore the Romanesque architecture. Elements such as the stone arches and columns in pink and red marbles were restored, and the underarches were painted in complementary colors.