San Michele de Murato
This remarkable checkered church on a Corsican hilltop is fabled to have been built by angels.
Legend has it that the villagers of Murato woke up one morning to discover that a church had been built by angels. Looking at the strange, delightful San Michele de Murato, that’s actually not too hard to believe.
What’s historically corroborated, however, is that the small chapel was built by mortals sometime in the 12th century, when Corsica was under the influence of the maritime republic of Pisa. It was dedicated in 1280.
The building is constructed in a typical Pisan Romanesque style, including the two-toned layering of stones (in this case limestone and serpentine) that create a striping effect. The square bell tower was a later addition and the church as it was built was particularly simple in form - a long nave with a semicircular apse. The real adornment is somewhat hidden. Among the polychrome stones above the entrance archways and high arcades, a careful observer will note carved corbels and statues in the form of symbols, animals, and people. Above one window, the serpent hands Eve an apple.
Pisa - one of the strongest and best-known of the Italian merchant states - would be soundly defeated in the Battle of Meloria against Genoa in 1284. The Republic of Genoa ruled the island until 1755 when, after a brief time as an independent republic, it was annexed by France in 1769 (the same year that Napoleon was born in its capital of Ajaccio). Although still nominally part of France, Corsica can feel an entire world apart from the mainland, separated by language, geography, and the occasional separatist rumblings. This beautiful, primeval little church is one more marker of a past that was all its own.
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