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San Benedetto Po Monastic complex

All that remains of the monastery that was founded in 1007 by Tedald of Canossa and abolished in 1797 on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte are the more characteristic sites of monastic life. They have been restored and are now included on the museum itinerary, allowing for an immersive experience in Benedictine life that is epitomised by the motto “Ora, lege et labora” (Pray, read and work).

Top view of the monastic complex.

Polarone Monastic Complex was founded in 1007 by Tedaldo of Canossa, grandfather of the famous Countess Matilde, on the island between Po and the Lirone River. In 1077, after the famous episode in Canossa between Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII, who saw the Countess as mediator, Matilde gave the Abbey to the Pope, who in turn placed it under the jurisdiction of Cluny . The architecture of the Abbey Church was therefore adapted to the Cluny model through the remodeling of the apse, which is structured with an ambulatory and radial chapels, on the model of the great pilgrimage churches. Inside the Basilica, there is also the Oratory of St. Mary dating back from the end of the 11th century to the middle of the twelfth century, therefore dating to a period preceding the death of the Countess. Exactly in this place, by her will, Matilde was buried (1115). The body of the Grancontessa was then moved in 1632 by the will of Pope Urban VIII and now rests in the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, in the grandiose monument made by Bernini. Her sarcophagus, later enriched by four red marble lions, is still visible today in the pronaos of the sacristy. Between 1420 and 1450 the Abbey Church was restored after the monastery got to be part of the Cassino congregation of Santa Giustina in Padua. A century later, Abbot Gregory Cortese commissioned a new reconstruction to the great Giulio Romano, at that time in Mantua at the service of the Gonzaga, who, without demolishing the pre-existing Romanesque and Gothic structures, rebuilt the church adopting very original solutions for the front buildings with Mannerist classicism to live together. For the religious, political and cultural commitment, the monastery has played a key role in the history of Italian monasticism until its suppression (1797) by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Monastic Complex also includes the three cloisters: Secular, San Simeone’s and San Benedetto’s; the Great Refectory with a wall frescoed by Correggio, the sixteenth-century cellars that host a beautiful collection of Lombard, Reggiani and Bolognese farm wagons and the Polironian Civic Museum.

Mathilde's churches in Oltrepò Mantovano.

Photo of the courtyard.

Photos of the interior of the monastery.

A mosaic (1151) of the St Mary's Oratory,inside the Sanctuary.