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    History, faith, myth: the Romanesque churches of Maristanis

    Lights and shadows compete for the church of Santa Sofia, shrouded in the morning silence. The sun heats the sandstone of the high bell tower, enhances it against the blue sky. The facade remains in shadow, the Gothic rose window circled in red bricks stands out, a great eye on the symmetry of the doors. Nobody walks the streets of the center of San Vero Milis, one of the richest, when it comes to history, among the municipalities that touch the Maristanis wetlands.

    The flat land profile and the abundance of water resources have favored settlements in this area since the Neolithic. The archaeological site of S’Urachi offers evidence of the Nuragic period, while the wheat that still partially covers the Sinis Peninsula, together with the fishing and salt guaranteed by the wetlands, made it a strategic center for Carthaginians and Romans. In medieval times San Vero was part of the famous “Giudicato of Arborea”. It is presumably in the thirteenth century that the walls of the Romanesque church were erected, the remains of which are integrated today in the refurbishment that was completed in 1604 by two architects, the Genoese Agostino Carchi and Francesco Escano from Cagliari, as the epigraph recalls on the right jamb of the triumphal arch. Romanesque, Spanish-Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque: the styles overlap and harmonize in the eclectic stratification of the centuries.

    Inside, in the dim light, the priest reads a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. The space extends into the large side chapels. In the center, the single nave is divided into three large bays by round arches. A niche holds the precious statue of the Madonna of Spain, donated to San Vero Milis by the sea. The simulacrum was mutilated and burned in several parts during the Spanish Civil War. Delivered to the sea by those who wanted to save it from the iconoclast fury, it was carried by the currents to Sardinia. It was picked up on 10 April 1937 by a shepherd from the nearby center of Narbolia. Every year, in May, the population of San Vero celebrates the "landing" with a mass, processions along the town’s streets and musical performances.

    Outside the light has grown and lights up the red volcanic stone decorations of the bell tower, it makes the mosaic of the "onion" dome shine, present in the churches of various towns in the Oristano area. The works for the construction of the bell tower began in 1752, in the Savoy period, and lasted for about half a century. A work somehow detached in style own right, with a classic flavor, probably designed by one of the kingdom's engineers then present on the island

    But the most important example of Romanesque style in the Oristano area is certainly the cathedral of Santa Giusta, which observes the homonymous town from the top of the small hill located in the northern area. At the foot of the wide staircase leading to the churchyard, a few children play under the watchful eye of the mothers, seated on the benches that occupy the circumference of the square. Above, in the “stronghold” of the churchyard, two foreign tourists observe the surrounding landscape. They comment, in sweaters and shorts, the warmth of the November sun.

    The basilica was built in the first half of the 12th century. Local artisans were joined by workers who had participated in the construction of the cathedral of Pisa. Here too the sandstone is the protagonist of the facade. The stones of the two lateral registers measure half of the central one, anticipating the symmetry of the naves. Two marble jambs surround the portal, surmounted by pseudo-capitals decorated with leaves and an architrave. The three-mullioned window, with its slender marble columns, interrupts the rise of the facade for a moment, which then culminates with a tripartite tympanum. Sober and essential, the basilica thrives on a diminished majesty. You can feel it by completing the circumnavigation of the structure, appreciating the variation of the registers on the walls, the decorative richness of the apse, a rival in movement of the facade.

    Seven columns accompany the three naves up to the presbytery. The darkness that envelops the benches is interrupted by the light that filters through the windows and illuminates the arches, and growns again in the barrel vault of the two aisles, in the wooden trusses of the central one. The marble needed for the construction came from the ancient, nearby centers of Tharros, Neapolis and Othoca. The basilica houses two very ancient capitals, one from the second century and one from the first century BC.

    A narrow staircase from the presbytery leads to the crypt where, according to tradition, stay the remains of Giusta, Giustina and Enedina, martyred at the time of the persecutions of the Roman emperor Diocletian. The first to tell the story of the three martyrs was in 1616 the canon Antioco Martis, translator of an ancient Latin text that has disappeared. Giusta was born in Eaden, the ancient Santa Giusta, in the late 3rd century. Daughter of a rich aristocratic family, she converted to Christianity at a very young age, suffering imprisonment and tortures by her cruel mother Cleodonia, an enemy of the new religion. The death of Cleodonia did not mean the end of the vicissitudes for the young maiden. The noble Claudius, aided by the magician Cebrianus, did everything to force her into marriage. Giusta asked for help from God, who responded with a violent earthquake that submerged the city and killed Claudius, Cebrianus and all the idolaters. While praying, Giusta was called to heaven, followed a few weeks later by Justina and Enedina, to whom she had given an example of conversion. For the burial, the Christian community chose the place of imprisonment itself, a hillock just outside the town’s center.

    The midday light filters through a slit in the crypt and illuminates the profile of the statue representing the martyr, and her legend.

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