A Parish Church for Christmas

By Paola Rubbi

Simple and at the same time austere, it looks like a shelter of the nativity scene.

You find it there, unexpectedly, in the heart of a soft valley of the Appennines: in the winter, in the silence created by snow, with its essential linear forms, its rose coloured stones, simple and at the same time austere, it looks like a shelter of the nativity scene, surrounded by dense oak chestnuts.Parish church of Roffeno under the snow
It has been there since medieval times and, even in its simplicity, it gives the impression that it was important and much frequented.
You need to capture its heart, to discover this very ancient parish church (one of the oldest in Bologna's diocese) dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the Saints Peter and John. Primary centre of Christianity for people in the valley, it is called the parish church of Roffeno since it was reconstructed on the foundation of a pre-existent temple that some historians date back to the 7th century.
In 1155, Masters Comacini from Toscana built it with its evocative central stained-glass window with a double reveal (outside and inside) enriched with very fine raised lines of Byzantine style, and with its elegant apse recognized as one of the most beautiful Romanic apses of the Bolognese diocese. It was in 1183 that Pope Luke III designated it as collegial or plebeian, assigning it authority over more than 12 other parish churches.
A gathered atmosphere, out of time. InsideBack of the parish church, the naves come together from a raised floor with wide steps. The artistic representation begins with the baptismal font (pride of the parish church) of Lombard style dating back to the 7th century, and therefore pre-existent to the church, and ending with a stoop made out of stone with a chisel, coeval to its time, and the paintings of Tuscan and Bolognese school present in the baroque icons of the lateral altars.
The presence in a same church of the baptismal basin of Lombard style and decorations of Byzantine style like the central stained-glass window signifies that in these areas of the Bolognese mountain, in this parish church, met two cultures: the Lombard of the pianura padana area and the Byzantine of the Exarch of Ravenna.Parish church of Roffeno with flowers
Incidentally, this was marginal land even later, when the village was fortified with walls - risen in the 9th to 11th century period and called Roffeno because dominated by the family Roffeni - and became the Centi's from Bologna whose properties equaled that of the Estensi.
Then there were revolts, fires, bellicosities, plague in 1630, and the village fell into ruin and abandonment.
Increasing the charm of this secluded area, beautiful architectural and historical jewel, are the remains of a cloister dating back to the 15th century, hedged in buildings with original wooden bents and old stone staircases, and the guarding tower devoid of its ancient crenels.
Around, nature's greenery, small villages with secular stone houses, the outline of the mountains.
But, the ancient parish church of Roffeno, in its calm isolation, is not abandoned. To enhance its status and let more people know of the existence of this small magical village gathered around the church, a cultural association was formed in 2000 "Friends of the Ancient Parish church". Their initiatives - concerts of sacred and ancient music, recitals of prose and poetry, wine and food tasting, fairs and markets of local crafts - always appeal to a large and passionate number of people.
Christmas can be an opportunity to discover this parish church capable of conjuring up the images and charm of the nativity scene on the slopes of the Reno valley.