The rests of the church of S. Michelino in Foro in Rimini: comments and hypothesis.

We find the early quotation of S. Michelino in Foro in Rimini in documents of the XIIth cent.; it is quoted as parish.

In the following century the church became the Templar Knights’ seat whose "Magione" was constituted in the buildings close to it.

The templar seat of S. Michelino in Foro di Rimini was the reference for a number of properties and estates that the Order owned in a wide territory between region Romagna and Marche.

In the second ten of the XIVth. cent. the Templar Order was suppressed and all its goods were given to St. John the Evangelist’s Knights (Malta’s Knights) with the interested mediation of the Malatesta, Lords of the Town.

The parish belong to the Malta’s Knights until when, in the early years of the XIXth cent. the church was deconsacrated and, a few years later, changed in a private house.

Rimini’s historicians were interested in the church of S. Michelino since the XVIth cent.

They concordantly quote an ancient tradition and say that the building of the church itself would’ve been nothing but the roman Pantheon (all God’s temple) of the town.

In any case the S. Michelino rose on the N-E side of the ancient forum of Ariminum until when, between XVIth and XVIIth centt., the building of a block of houses just in front of the church made the square smaller; since then an alley – Via S. Michelino in Foro - leads to the church.

In the same period – end of XVIth cent. – the early description of S. Michelino was compiled during a bishop’s visit; the document is now in the bishop’s archive of Rimini and has been read by the author of these notes.

The most important passages of this description describe the presence of a window in the centre of the apse and and some ancient frescoes in the presbytery.

A chronicle of the XVIIth cent. reports that a subterranean enviroment (crypt ?) with beautiful floor in mosaic was found during some digs in the garden close to the church .

In the early XIXth cent. the building was drawn by Cav. Seraux D’Agincourt and the drawing was published in his "Histoire del l’art par les monuments", Tav. LXXIII, n.6 (1811) . He dated S. Michelino to the Vth cent. and considerd one of the early known samples of church with a plan in latin cross.

A few years later, the historician Luigi Tonini could visit the building and noted it had been built with roman techniques.

Since then the church was literally forgotten until when, in 1990, some articols on the local press report that an important part of the church still survives even though englobed in more recent buildings.

In 1993 other news on the local press report that four levels of ancient frescoes (XIth – XVth cent.) were found out in the apse; a picture of Saint Elisabeth of Hungary (1) belongs to the XIII cent. level (around 1270) and seems to be the early known expression of the riminese School of painting .

The most recent quotation of San Michelino can be found in the chronicle of a visit of a vice- minister for Beni Culturali; it is said that the restauration of the fresco has been officially decided.

Description of the building

Some parts of the building of San Michelino can be seen from the little alley with its same name; unfortunately they have been all plastered and heavily altered (with the opening of a gate of a garage in the old facade - ! - , for istance); so the only thing can be percived is the original plan of the church.

Coming in the courtyard of the block of flats on the back of the alley you can see the apsidal zone and part of the transept.

The apse has approximately a semi- circular form but it’s externally divided into five parts by pilasters as you can notice in the photograph above.

Some parts of the apse are still painted in red and blue: the painting looks very old, maybe belonging to the XVIIth cent.; probably it covers the window in the center of the apse that was quoted in the bishop’s visit.

The windows we see now on the right side of the apse have certainly been made recently but, between them, we see the rests of an older one with a large splay; it is at the beginning of the apse on the right side, so it could not be seen from the original nave (2).

The last part of the transept on the right side (looking at it from the apse) shows a large arch and a window that were cleary closed many centuries ago.

The rests of the arch are formed by broken bricks; we can also notice some foundations of curved walls at its base; in the author's opinion this could suggest that originally two little apses lean forward from the two wings of the transept. If this hypothesis is true, we wouldn’t have to do with a building in latin cross but with a church with one nave and, on two sides, two little chapels separated from the nave (see D’Agincourt’s drawing).

In this case, we should consider it as a sample of a little ancient basilica with protesis and diaconicon: that’s the two little chapels, connected with the needs of the early christian liturgy, that we find in many Palaeo – Christian buildings.

As far as the inner enviroments are concerned, our description can be based just on what we can see in some photographs.

We can notice the distruction of the dome, made in 1947, and many changes in the structures for the needs of a private house.(3)

Waiting for precise verifications, we can add a last hypothesis that is based on what the photographs show: it seems actually possible that the original dome was based on plan bases (pennacchi); in this case, as far as the knowledge of the author is, the only reference, in northern Italy,for this kind of buildings could be found in San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro in Milan (around 375 a. C.) (4).

Carlo Valdameri

(1) This is the hyphothesis of the author.

(2) Differently from many other cases, the position of this window excludes any aim of exaltation of the symbolic meaning of the sunshine. It could only enlight the apse where we can guess the presence of an important picture, maybe in mosaic. In any case the apse seems to have been restored many times in different periods; the dating of the building itself is not clear.

3) The building is today divided into two floors by a loft. The dome (rebuilt in XVIIIth cent.) was destroyed in 1947.

4) L. Tonini, historician of the XIXth cent. , hypotized the church was not older than the VI th cent. because of its dedication to St. Michel, whose cult officially developed around the end of Vth cent, after a famous miracle.

In our opinion, this cannot exclude (as often happens) the existence of a previous cult for St. Michel that was just ratified in the end of the Vth cent.

Basic bibliographical references:

Cesare Clementini – "Racconto istorico..... della fondazione di Rimino e dell'origine e vite de' Malatesti" 1617 . Bologna Forni - Ristampa (1969) Vol. I, P. 146 e P.160Roberto Adimari: "Sito riminese" Brescia 1616

Cav. Seraux D’Agincourt: drawing published in his "Histoire del l’art par les monuments", Tav. LXXIII, n.6 (1811)

Luigi Tonini in " Rimini dopo il mille" nel 1848 edito a Rimini da B. Ghigi nel 1972

P. G. Pasini in C. F. Marcheselli - Pitture di Rimini....-p.75 (in nota 40/2)

Mauro Mariani: "Gli ordini monastico cavallereschi nel riminese e San'Agata nel Medio Evo" in:

"Templari, miniere e pittori nella storia antica di Sant'Agata" pp.41-67-Collana di Studi Storici Santagatesi" diretta da Giuliano Dall'Ara ed. "IL PONTE" Rimini, 1995.

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