The Abbey of San Donato is the most important monument in Sesto Calende and is located in a place originally called Scozola, an ancient place of worship and important crossroad.
The Abbey of San Donato was built around the 9th century on the will of bishop of Pavia Liutardo de’ Conti, on the ruins of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to worshiping the gods. However, the current structure is the result of renovations between the 11th (nave and main apse) and 13th centuries (the date of the narthex). This was a typical structure in Christian basilicas in the early centuries, and is one of the few examples remaining. It is a sort of atrium that is clearly separated from the true naves.
The abbey was the focus of a curious controversy for several centuries. Although it was within the territory of the diocese of Milan, it fell under the jurisdiction of Pavia. Not even efforts by Saint Charles Borromeo succeeded in adding it to the Ambrosian diocese. In fact, this was only done in 1820.
The current structure of the abbey has three naves with apses; the apse to the south was destroyed in the 18th century and was replaced with a sacristy. The apse to the north dates back to the original structure. One can get an idea of the building’s afflicted existence from the outside, which has medieval decorations, a Romanesque tile and even a Roman tombstone epigraph.
The narthex is just inside, in the front and marked by Roman columns.
There are also numerous frescoes from different periods between the 15th – 17th centuries. Some of them, such as the valuable La Madonna dei Limoni (Madonna of Lemons), were transferred on canvas to be restored. The remaining ones include, in particular, the Suckling Madonna (second pillar to the left) and the Last Supper by Tarillo da Curia (1581). Just inside on the right is the Chapel of Santa Caterina with frescoes telling of the saint’s vicissitudes.
The Romanesque style is also well represented by the crypt, which is formed by two little columns supporting the arches of the cross vaults. It’s worth pointing out that the floor was once ½ metre lower.
The abbey is regularly open for worship. If you would like to visit it, take a look at one of our itineraries and make your trip more interesting!