In the countryside between the small towns of Stimigliano and Torri in Sabina in northern Lazio, there is an inconspicuous Romanesque church that played a crucial role in the history of the region built over the remains of an old Roman town.
The church, officially known as Santa Maria della Lode in Vescovio, dates back to the eighth century. But due to the ravages of the Saracen attacks and later reconstructions, its present style is clearly Romanesque, as demonstrated by stunning frescoes that demonstrate the influence of the 14th century school of the Roman artist Cavallini. These frescoes, which depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, have been restored in recent years.
Inside the church one can also access the 11th century semicircular crypt, located under the altar and dedicated to three local martyrs. Until the mid-15th century, the church was the Cathedral of the Sabine people (as the inscription above the archway in front of the façade indicated) but this title was then transferred, due to the site’s isolation, to the nearby town of Magliano Sabina in 1495.
The church is built over the remains of a Roman town known as Forum Novum, which are located across from the parking lot. Many spolia, or architectural remains, are visible in the bell tower in a common example of material recycling which is characteristic of medieval buildings in Italy. Forum Novum was largely a market town, designated as a Roman municipium in the first century. The excavations, recently continued by the British School at Rome, have revealed the traces of a basilica, a temple, a forum, a small amphitheater, and a baths complex, along with shops (or tabernae) and an aqueduct. The settlement was inhabited until the 4th century and it declined thereafter when it was destroyed by the Saracen attack of 846.
Know Before You Go
The church is located between Torri in Sabina and Stimigliano. There is a restaurant and bar in the former cloister which dates back to the 16th century. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.