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SASSOFERRATO Chirch of Santa Croce dei Conti Atti

The Abbey of Santa Croce dei Conti in Sassoferrato (Ancona) hides inside a very interesting Romanesque church.

The Lords Atti, feudal lords of the place, erected in the place a fortification that then housed an abbey that grew to incorporate the probably pre-existing church.

The abbey became very important in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: in 1327 the abbot became governor of Sassoferrato and the abbey came to have over 40 churches in its dependencies.

The church was presumably built between 1000 and 1100 extensively using materials from the nearby ancient Roman town of Sentinum.
(In 295 A.C. took place at Sentinum the 'battle of nations' where the Roman army won over a coalition made up of Etruscans, Samnites, Galli Senoni and Umbrians, and that victory gave Rome control over central Italy.) It is said that the church was built on the site of a temple dedicated to Mithras (the reproduction of the sun kept in one of the rooms adjacent to the church would indicate it ...). There are those who want it among the places of the Templars (there is a Maltese cross near the entrance) and rumors that refer to a strange interest for the church of Nazis and Fascists (but here we cross the territories of Indiana Jones ... ).

For those who enjoy medieval sculpture, representations on the capitals bear the 'signature' of a Lombard artist.

A single glance at the bicaudal mermaid on a pillar leaning against one of the supporting walls is enough: the pear face, the eyes represented in relief, the shape of the mouth and the waving ears are stylistic notes that make one think to the hands of a Longobard stone cutter.
A look at Longobarde works such as the altar of Rachis in Cividale or the siren on the ambo of the Pieve di Gropina allows anyone to recognize the same trademark.

It is possible that the temple was built recovering in addition to the Roman columns of Sentinum also materials of a pre-existing temple of Lombard construction.

After all, in the nearby Cesano valley the Bulgarians allied with the Longobards had found their home, and Sassoferrato himself was a territory on the edge of that 'Byzantine corridor' linking the Pentapoli to Rome: it is more than legitimate to hypothesize a Lombard settlement of a certain importance.

Around the year one thousand, the church was probably built - as it was then used - largely recovering construction material and decorations from previous buildings, not only Sentinum columns but also Longobards capitals.

The church is supported by four massive pillars in the center, to which granite and limestone columns, coming from Sentinum, have been placed.

The decorative elements of the portal and the capitals are homologous - for example - to those of St. Paolo Vendaso and other churches of the eleventh century, but decidedly more 'rich' and elaborate.

Two capitals on the pillars tell stories: one is a crucifixion and the other shows a story that we could not identify.

In the scene of the crucifixion Christ is fixed to the cross with four nails: from 1200 onwards Christ is fixed with a single nail for both feet.

In the other beautiful scene, a small itifallic little man armed with a sword holds his hand on the head of a child (or a faithful?). On the right is a beast seen from above, probably a manticore.

Another very similar manticora seen from above is - curiously - on the portal of the cathedral of Trani.

The capital in which the man holds two beasts is also interesting.
Other capitals host an interweaving of basilisks, chimeras, elephants, eagles and other symbols reproduced with care by hands certainly very skilled: a Romanic jewel all in all come to us in good condition and deserves to be more valued.

Certainly the history of this church is complex and articulated and perhaps in the details we will never know it: it remains a place of great beauty and charm.