At the beginning of '900 Agostino Desirelli, pastor of Rivolta d'Adda, gave the charge to the architect Cesar Nava to restore the church of Santa Maria Assunta and San Sigismondo. Since, across the centuries it underwent influences by Baroque and Neoclassical styles, Desirelli's objective was to restore it to original Romanesque architecture.
The works, including the construction of the pronao, lasted about a decade and returned to its former glory a monument that scholars consider one of the most important and interesting examples of Lombard art of the Middle Ages.
Located in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in front of the Romanesque basilica, the Church of the Immaculate Conception was built towards the end of the fifteenth century, as evidenced by two bricks engraved with the years 1497 and 1499, respectively on the front and on the side door.
The gabled facade, made of brick and cobblestone courses, is a typical example of the Lombard architectural tradition and is crowned by an elegant brick decoration of hanging trefoil arches.
The north side of the church is characterized by the presence of spurs and a small apse, dominated by the bell tower and the octagonal lantern, which incorporates the ovoid dome, added in the seventeenth century during the Presbytery rebuilding.
Inside, the oratory has a single nave covered by a barrel vault divided into two bays. On the side walls, near the altar, there are two side chapels.
The altar, placed in the presbyter, is an important artifact in polychrome marble made at the beginning of the eighteenth by Andrea Fantoni's design.
The element, that makes this oratory unique, is definitely the nave decoration. Fresco decoration carried out in 1506 and which covers the whole vault with 104 rounds from whose face Sibyls and Prophets and the series of panels depicting the Virgin Stories.
The painters are two artists from Lodi: Giovan Pietro Carioni and Martino Piazza. The latter was one of the first Leonardo's pupils in Milan and practiced the Master teachings in the rivoltana vault making it a valuable Renaissance painting incunabula in Lombardy.
It is composed by three naves, the Central one is divided into three bays, two covered with cross vaults resting on diagonal arches strain, the third, oddly enough, with a barrel vault, which is then supported in the middle by a stone arch.
The minor aisles are each divided into six fields, covered by vaults without diagonals arches.The aisles ending in three apses that come off without intermediate bodies back from the front of the church. The pillars that divide the aisles are of different sizes. The largest ones feature cruciform shape with the corners of the columns leaning; smaller ones have the shape of a square pillar with leaning four half-columns.
The walls are specifically built, almost entirely, with the traditional Lombard, both inside and outside the church is done in a herringbone pattern, the Romans' "opus spicatum".
It's an impressive work of the eighteenth century as the inscription behind it testifies: "the piety of Rivolta people erected this in the year 1761 and completed in the year 1765". It's a monument of exquisite consists of a central body in polychrome marbles and a temple above the tabernacle consists of columns that make up a rich canopy with angels in adoration and, at the top, two angels carrying the cross.
Built in 1865 by Natale Balbiani, used a good part of pipes from an already existent instrument, renewing, however, the box and stops.
In the early 1900s Pacifico Inzoli "organ builder of great stature", rearranged the boxes, changed the old tin facade pipes with new zinc ones, storing them on a tubular-pneumatic windchest and replaced some stops.
The last cleaning operation dates back to 1975.
During the restoration work, when Baroque and neoclassical elements were removed from the vaults and pillars, countless ornate stones emerged. Desirelli does not hesitate to describe them as "beautiful", describing with precision, not without admiration, the details:
"Ribbons, flowers, foliage, animals, mermaids are woven into whimsical decorations, arranging themselves in ever new ways and joining in a general effect of which has really great. Here there is a bunch of eagles spreading the wings and standing upright on the sharp claws, in turn vague garland around a capital: there takes place in a strip filigree sweet meanders, then squeezing in a thousand knots and tangling in weird figures.
From a column foliage develops a strong feeling completely different from the softness caressed you notice in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, but that does not cease to be less beautiful and also I like the simplicity of its virgin wildness rude. On the one hand animals of all species fight and run, even those that are not there or were never, on the other hand, the strains are formed in stars, crosses, flowers in rose, grapes, all tying and tightening with slight creases that run and fade and come back soon as they find a place where width can relax. "
In the greatest arch of the apse, divided into three parts, stone decorations find their synthesis. Among nice decorated areas all kinds of animals climb: dragons, centaurs, lambs, goats, oxen, lions, boars, pelicans, doves, but also men, horsemen and trainers of horses converge and bestow honor to the sacrificed lamb, over which there is a cross. The lamb is surrounded by symbolic circle and supported by angels.
Each sculpture contains a meaning that dates back to medieval culture founded on the dualism between Good and Evil, Sin and Grace, Life and Death, the Body and the Soul. Eagle, bird, lamb and deer are an expression of the good and the aggressiveness of certain animals; the ugliness of some monsters symbolizes the evil and its forces.
The main source of inspiration of Romanesque artists is definitely the Bible, but we must not forget that even the models of ancient "pagan" civilizations influenced the work of these anonymous sculptors. The capitals formed by acanthus leaves are in fact inspired by Corinthian capitals. Other pagan symbols are sheep, palm tree, vine leaves of Hellenistic origin; or the pigeons that are in the same cup; or double tailed sirens, that in the eyes of the sinner symbolize lust.
Christian art has, however, assigned new meanings to the pagan elements. The vineyard, for example, that previously symbolized the end of life, in Christian mysticism represents the Church. The grape is also the symbol of the Eucharist. Eagles with outstretched wings signify the believer in prayer and the human soul rising to God.
When the restoration started it was discovered that the part of capitals and vaults had been destroyed to allow the super imposition of baroque and neoclassical structures. It was thought then to reconstruct, with the same materials, the missing parts. The work was entrusted to Giuseppe Varischi, a stonemason living in Cassano d'Adda. He performed the work with such creative ability so that today it has become difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the sculptures found intact from those retouched or redone.
In the basilica remained no paintings contemporary its construction. The oldest paintings do not seem to date back before '200 or '300. During the restoration in 1903 figures returned to light, which for centuries had been hidden under the plaster and lime. From the main entrace the pillars are painted with pictures of San Bernardino of Siena, St. Rocco, St. Leonard of Limoges (patron of peasants and prisoners), Athanasius blessing with a jeweled miter and St. Benedict brought to light in 1992.
In the first bay are painted the outer parts of the legs of a warrior in armor of steel and a skull; these figures overlap and merge with each other. In the second bay, the recent work of cleaning has brought to light a Madonna with Child and St. Sigismund King supporting the pennant red crosses. These three characters feature yellow gold halos. In the third bay on the left are painted a St. Anthony Abbot and St. Christopher having the Child on his shoulders.
During the '80s were performed restoration works in the apses. In north one can now clearly be seen the image of Christ Creator of the Whole, seated on a throne. He is surrounded by the mystical almond to the four sides of which appear the symbols of the Evangelists. I.e. at the top there are the eagle and the Angel (Matthew and John), while at the bottom there are the calf and the lion (Luke and Mark). The fresco on the one hand, is complemented by a saint woman kneeling with his hands on his chest near a solemn St. Peter, on the other hand, it shows St. John the Baptist to Christ showing the sign of his martyrdom, and St. Paul-wielding a long sword.
South apse shows a circular wreath surrounding the figure of Christ, who, in his left hand, a sword. At the bottom right are painted figures of the blessed and outcasts, to the right of Christ, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph left. Beneath the floor to the left is the image of a saint woman in a monk's habit. She is in front of St. Martin in the act of cutting his cloak in half to give to the beggar.
In the lower part of the central apse were painted at from the left on different vaults: St. Francis of Assisi without the lower part of the body to make room for another saint painted in 1494, holding in his right hand a book and in his left a lily. Then the turn of two Ministering angels that lift the veil that surrounds the ancient tabernacle recessed in the wall.
On the right side you may recognize San Pancrazio that holds the flag with a crimson cross, St. John the Baptist with a garment of camel's hair and the Virgin Suckling well preserved in the upper part. To the left of the Virgin Mary can be seen St. Andrew, St. Leonard and St. Sigismund, king of Burgundy to which the basilica was dedicated. The illustrious personage seated on a throne of fine workmanship. His head is surrounded by a crown of lilies according to the Gallic custom. The central part is occupied by the Last Supper; according to the restorers it dates from the late thirteenth century
The fresco was performed with two different techniques: at the top it fresh pointing was used, at the bottom lime and dust. The latter part, representing the tables, the food and the pottery, is virtually lost. The background behind the apostles is colored in dark blue. The placement of the characters obeys the criteria except for the central group where Christ holds him close John and two other apostles. The time shown is the one in which Jesus reveals to his disciples Judas' betrayal.
Judas is the only one not to have a halo around his head. The announcement seems to have come to all the guests so that some of them, the last two on the right continue to talk about the drama had not heard the words of Christ.
Once the restoration Rusca the painter was commissioned to paint the walls and the apse making a summary of the history of the Church prepared in the Old Testament, instituted by Christ on the apostles and continued through the centuries by the successors of the apostles, represented in a particular way in his saints. In the first two bays are painted simple designs in bright colors, the bands running around the arches rise with the creases and hide under the fire of the great times.
The Old Testament is represented by the four Major Prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Above the chancel are two large canopies Byzantine times. Here are depicted the four archangels Michael, Oriel, Raphael and Gabriel. The work of Christ is represented by the symbols of the Evangelists. In the major apse, Church's history is told through the figures of the four doctors between a window and the other, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory, St. Jerome and St. Augustine.
Then there is San Lucio II who holds the Bull. This means basically he confirms to the Basilica of Rivolta privileges granted by his predecessors and San Galdino.
In the apse, decorated with faux mosaic, is represented the Church Triumphant by the Crowned Virgin and Christ flanked by Saints Sigismund and Albert Quartermaine, a native and patron of Rivolta d'Adda.
In the central portal are authentic sculpture of the bow and transom of the bezel with the Redeemer as well as the two-part column, including capital, which rest against the door. The pronaos were built in 1906 and still defend the entry although not everyonejustify their legitimacy in the arts. The money needed to perform the work was made available by Count Paolo Celesia in memory of his late father. On both sides of the basilica has buttresses that suggest more of a militaristic structure that the side of a sacred building.
What most attracts the visitor outside the church is the main apse. The splayed windows, the arches, the ceiling fan creates a succession of clear lines and furrows and dark gray. The semi-circle of the building is crowned by the light design of the loggia to the final embroidery of arches lined with elegant notch. The architect Cesare Nava has restored the five windows of the main apse: the three plants may have been part of the original church for their narrow shape and arched top, the two outer boxes were opened from scratch or extended to a rectangular shape later. This was true also for the loggia that was added after the twelfth century at the expense of the lower part of the apse.
Whatever the reality, the apse is a rare beauty. Together with the other factors described above, it makes the Basilica of Rivolta d'Adda, a monument among the most extraordinary which can be found in Lombard Romanesque art.