Castell’Arquato lies in the northwest corner of Emilia-Romagna. A very interesting corner it is.
The area is rich with well-preserved castles. Castelli del Ducato di Parma, Piacenza e Pontremoli count amongst their riches 25 of these castles in a very small area. The spa centers of Salsomaggiore and Tabiano Terme are nearby. You could spend a week here easily.
But let’s focus on just a tiny part of Castell’Arquato, the Collegiate Church Santa Maria Assunta and the 15th century frescoes of the chapel of Santa Caterina.
While the town is magical, the facade of the church is subdued.There are no angels with trumpets to encourage you to poke your head inside.
But do it anyway. There are those always interesting Romanesque column capitals:
But if you are curious you might enter the chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, which was built at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It is entirely covered in frescoes, top to bottom.
Architectural elements impose themselves on the images. No problem.
There is even a fresco panel here the Google will not allow me to show you! Yes, it’s true, above the doorway is a depiction of Saint Agatha being tortured, an act whose depiction evidently exceeded the tolerance of the Google algorithm. You know, Agatha was the woman who spurned the attentions of one Quintianus, who was a dude with “high diplomatic ranking” who eventually had her imprisoned – in a brothel, where her faith never wavered. Quintianus decided to play hardball. According to Catholic Online:
He had her stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Noticing Agatha was enduring all the torture with a sense of cheer, he commanded she be subjected to a worse form of torture—this evil man ordered that her breasts be cut off.
So this saintly miracle, the miracle of her hardcore happiness despite her miserable treatment, might be the thing you need to see and contemplate in a time when the world has decided to return to torture, murder, and arbitrary hate to make itself “great” again.
The fresco depicts this torture.
And celebrate this extraordinary woman. Her feast day falls on February 5th.
But our story doesn’t end here. You see, you wouldn’t be seeing these things if the archpriest E. Cagnoni hadn’t decided to do a restoration of the church. In the 18th century the church was completely plastered, including the columns. The trussed roof got stuccoed. The interior of the church was erased. The restoration slowly brought things back.
By 1899 the frescoes were re-discovered and the church slowly began to be transformed into what it was.
Don’t just come to Castell’Arquato to see some frescoes. Stay a while. Discover this precious corner of Emilia Romagna and its castles, spas, vineyards and monuments. You might not want to leave.