San Salvatore (or Santa Giulia) is a former monastery in Brescia, now turned into a museum. The monastic complex is famous for the diversity of its architecture which include Roman remains and significant pre-Romanesque, Romanesque and Renaissance buildings. In 2011, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of a group of seven inscribed as Longobards in Italy, Places of Power (568-774 A.D.).
The monastery is traditionally considered the place where Desiderata, wife of Charlemagne and daughter of the Lombard King Desiderius, spent her exile after the annulment of her marriage in 771.
San Salvatore was founded in 753 by Desiderius, future king of the Lombards, and his wife Ansa, as a female monastery, his daughter Anselperga becoming the first abbess. After the Lombard defeat by Charlemagne, San Salvatore maintained its privileges as a royal institution, and enlarged its possessions.
Alfred the Great visited this monastery when he went to Rome in the 850s. He later founded his own monastery for nuns at Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, putting his own daughter in charge; although there is no clear evidence, it is possible he took this monastery as his inspiration.
In the 12th century most of the edifices were rebuilt or restored in the Romanesque style, and the oratory of Santa Maria in Solario was erected. In the 15th century all the structures were again restored and a dormitory was added. In 1599 the church of Santa Giulia was finished.
The monastery was suppressed in 1798 after the French invasion of Lombardy, and turned into barracks. It remained in poor condition until 1882, when it became a Museum of the Christian Age; the decay was however not totally halted before 1966, with a general restoration and the creation of a new Museum of Santa Giulia.
The Basilica of San Salvatore dates from around the 9th century. It has a nave and two apses, and is located over a pre-existing church, which had a single nave and three apses, and in turn was built over a Roman edifice dating from the 1st century BC, destroyed in the 5th century AD. The bell tower, rebuilt in the 13th-14th century, has frescoes by Romanino. The interior of the basilica houses frescoes by Paolo da Cailina the Younger, as well as other from the Carolingian age. The presbytery (converted in the 16th century) is a former nun choir built in 1466.Interior and frescoes Santa Maria in Solario.
The Oratory of Santa Maria in Solario was added in the 12th century. It has a square plan with an octagonal lantern and small arched loggia. The second floor is decorated with scenes of the life of Jesus.
Santa Giulia Church dates from the 16th century.
The museum includes ancient finds dating from the Bronze Age to Roman times. Among them is the 4th century ivory Brescia Casket and a 'Winged Victory' statue. There is also a plan probably showing the appearance of the Roman centre of Brixia at the time of Emperor Vespasian. The medieval section of the museum houses a crucifix alleged to have belonged to Desiderius. There are also architectural remnants from local buildings now destroyed, such as frescoes from the city's Broletto, a statue of St. Faustine and a fresco cycle by Moretto da Brescia.
Also visible in the complex are some Roman houses (domus), excavated beneath the former nuns' orchard.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).