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The cloister of Voltorre

  • Chiostro di Voltorre - Gavirate
  • Chiostro di Voltorre - Gavirate
  • Chiostro di Voltorre - Gavirate
  • Chiostro di Voltorre - Gavirate
  • Chiesa di San Michele a Voltorre - Gavirate
  • Chiesa di San Michele a Voltorre - Gavirate
The ancient church of San Michele in Voltorre belonged to a much larger monastic complex at the center of a rural court that formed a square enclosure crossed by a north-south axis road which overlooked the main entrance of the monastery rebuilt in 1643 with forms from the classical canon Lateran Don Raffaele Appiani. Of the ancient medieval walls are preserved the two arcs of access: the south shows, very deteriorated, two panels carved very similar to those seen in the cloister on the jambs of a door, now buffered, and representing two zoomorphic forms, perhaps a dragon and a lion, definitely going back to the Romanesque period. 
The cloister, as we see it today, dates back to the late 1100s - early years of 1200 and was built at the behest of the Monks Fruttuariensi resident here at the church and the tower of Voltorre had been assigned to a papal decree in 1154. Fruttuariensi The were a monastic order founded in the early eleventh century by William Volpiano, Monaco Benedictine Cluny grew in scope famous for having brought back many monasteries from strict adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict. 
The order fruttuariense, under whom there were several properties scattered throughout northern Italy including the Abbey of San Gemolo in Ganna, was organized in a highly centralized: there was only one abbey, located in the territory of San Benigno Fruttuaria Canadian (Piedmont), whose abbot was managing the assets of all the priories attributed to the order, including, of course, Voltorre, and had the power to elect the Priors. This meant that the individual monasteries did not have the opportunity to manage their own wealth. What is known for sure is that towards the end of 1100, a prior Voltorre, that Hugh, became for a time Abbot of Fruttuaria. A few years later, for political reasons, he had to resign and return to Voltorre but getting to be able to retain the title of abbot (which is why very often the monastery of Voltorre is referred to as Abbey), which the monks voltorresi could directly elect their own prior and above all, to directly manage the wealth of the monastery that had to be quite large because of the many estates in his possession. The new disposable income then allowed to call a master builder Lanfranco Ligurno, active in the area between the end of 1100 and early in 1200, of which retains the signature carved on a capital of the cloister, to build the monastery itself. At the time, a magister took care of both the design of the realization of the work, including the sculptural decoration. A Lanfranco so we have the cloisters as now presents itself to the visitor, if not for any subsequent intervention as the decoration brick arches, surmounted by a frieze of hanging arches and twisted by a pattern with bricks arranged in a sawtooth, probably century, that the north side has replaced the original stone entablature present in the other three sides. 
The west side, perhaps the oldest and certainly the first to be built, is characterized by having columns much more massive than the other in the cloister while the capitals are stylistically very similar: this, together with other factors, has led to the hypothesis that there was an existing building that belonged to the columns which were then reused when the building up of the whole architectural complex. 
This fact is not surprising in an era where there was some shortage of building material was frequent reuse of existing elements. The non-uniformity with the rest of the cloister should not then be a problem as the Romanesque art preferred the variety symmetry. The cloister then, the central element of the monastic complex, having the dual function of connection between the different areas of life of the monks and place of prayer and meditation, was to represent heaven on earth, hall of heavenly paradise, and play the variety and beauty of the world that you just created from the hands of God 
And so we come to the element that makes the cloister of Voltorre unique: the extraordinary sculptural decoration that decorates its capitals that appear to be different from each other. Each capital is decorated with leaves, flowers, animals, mythological figures derived from the medieval bestiary and the imaginary, as well as to refer to the nature created by the Lord, they also had a deep spiritual meaning that was to attend the monaco in his reflections. Thus we find the sirens from the dual tail, symbol of temptation, goats, monkeys, snakes, eagles, ancient archetypes like the rose Celtic knots, spirals ... and so on. Today, it is more difficult than ever for us to decipher the meaning of the images depicted but we suffer the fascination imagining the monks in their long days of prayer and work, as they walked immersed in their thoughts for the four corridors that make up the porch chiostrense. Very interesting are the two panels with zoomorphic figures that adorn the jambs of a door, now walled up, which overlooks the cloister. Also in this case we can only guess their meaning, perhaps representing a dragon (the monastery, as the church is dedicated to St. Michael, the Archangel who drove Lucifer from Heaven throwing him on the ground in the form of a dragon, in fact) and a lion because in medieval times it was believed that the only animal capable of defeating the Devil was the lion-dragon, symbol of the strength of the Lord. 
Of the original interiors of the monastery unfortunately little remains: some splayed window and some architectural elements valued in the process of restoration. Of its history, we know that fruttuariense remained until 1600 when, after a succession of some "commendatory" (members of noble families to whom the monastery, with all its properties, were given under management), Voltorre passed to the Lateran Canons of the Holy Mary of the Passion of Milan. The latter do not ever resided in Voltorre, merely send them a charge for short periods to manage the assets. For one of them, Don Raffaele Appiani, are to be attributed some renovations such as the conversion of the large room located on the east side, perhaps originally built to be the new church of Fruttuariensi, in the chapter house, the embellishment of the rooms on the first floor on the west side with stucco and fresco and the construction of a large fireplace and the conversion of the garden which looked out into a sort of "pleasure garden" with flowers, fountains and ornamental plants. All these actions are witnessed by some plates that are painted and carved above the doors of the cloister. In the nineteenth century, then, the order laterenense was suppressed as a result of the Napoleonic edicts, and the monastery, already in a state of severe decay, was sold to private owners who turned it into homes and shelters for farm implements. 
In 1913, the east side was destroyed by a fire caused by the presence of gasoline and machinery admitted under the porch. For many decades the interest in the cloister was kept alive by numerous artists and members of the local culture, but the different events of the war that affected the twentieth century not allowed restoration. The public interest was then directed only to the cloister, recognized national monument in early 1900, and not to the entire monastic structure that therefore suffered numerous internal tampering that now make it impossible to identify the original settings. 
Since the '70s began the long process of acquisition of the asset by the institutions which only ended in the 80s. Since then, the monastery has been completely restored by the Province of Varese, the owner of the property, and is currently used as a venue for exhibitions and cultural events.
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