The Crossroads of Empire project gets Special Mention
The Crossroads of Empires Project, included among the 2020 European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards Special Mentions, draws together the results of over a decade of archaeological, art historical and historical research at two Longobard-period sites in the Provincia di Salerno, Italy: the former pilgrimage site of San Michele in Olevano sul Tusciano, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and the nearby church of Sant’Ambrogio in Montecorvino Rovella. These two sites form part of a wider initiative, which aims to promote the history, cultural heritage and touristic potential of Longobard sites in the inland regions of the Provincia di Salerno, often overshadowed by the popular Amalfi coast, and aims to synergise the activities of academic researchers, heritage bodies and local cultural event organisers. CEP consisted of a pan-European team of experts, from the Czech Republic, Italy and the United Kingdom and provided training and networking opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students, PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows from several Italian and UK higher education institutions. In close consultation with the local community of Montecorvino Rovella, CEP also worked to promote the cultural value of these two sites, which are omitted from the UNESCO World Heritage List.
“The way that this project enhances once abandoned sites that bear witness to European cultural exchange in medieval Europe was recognised and valued by the Jury.”
The first strand of CEP focused on the cave shrine of San Michele in Olevano sul Tusciano. This shrine, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, is one of the largest early medieval Christian cave shrines in Italy and a significant surviving testament to the origins of one of Christianity’s most significant cults in the European west. Situated in a natural cave complex, beneath the summit of Monte Raione, the cave was believed to have been the site of a manifestation of the Archangel Michael and from the early 7th century became an important centre of pilgrimage and healing. The complex comprises five separate chapels constructed between the 8th- 10th centuries which still preserve significant programs of early medieval fresco work and stucco moulding. Unlike the better-known medieval Michaelic shrines of Monte Gargano (Apulia, Italy) and Mont Sant Michel (Normandy, France), which were both substantially rebuilt in later centuries, the abandonment of San Michele in the 13th century has resulted in the almost total preservation of the shrine in its early medieval form. Consequently, San Michele offers one of the most well-preserved examples of early medieval Christian pilgrimage architecture in Western Europe.
The second strand of the CEP focuses on the Church of Sant’Ambrogio in Montecorvino Rovella situated 5km northwest of San Michele in Olevano sul Tuscinano. Discovered in the 1970s under vegetation, the church was partly excavated and restored by the Sopraintendenza di Salerno in the 1990s. As part of the CEP, the church has been more extensively excavated and dated to c.850-c.900. Like San Michele, Sant’Ambrogio escaped later phases of rebuilding and is one of few Longobard churches which preserves its original 9 th -century form intact. Consequently, it stands as an important testament to the sophistication of early medieval architectural achievement and the development of church architecture in southern Italy.