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Bellusco (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Church of Santa Maria Maddalena

Foto Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Foto Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Foto Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Foto Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Foto Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Church of Santa Maria MaddalenaThe Church of Santa Maria Maddalena stands on the north side of the village of Camuzzago.

The history of the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena is intertwined with that of the village of Camuzzago, a rural village that developed around the monastery of which the church was part.
Church and monastery would originate from the mid-twelfth century, as the church should have been erected in 1152 and the monastery is mentioned for the first time in documents from 1163.
The monastery initially housed the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher and reached its peak in the second half of the fourteenth century. A period of decline followed which led the monastery of Camuzzago to be annexed in 1478 to the Benedictine monastery of San Pietro in Gessate in Milan. This led to a period of economic recovery that allowed the renovation of the buildings (the frescoes in the presbytery and of the apse attributed to Bernardino Butinone dedicated to the life of Santa Maria Maddalena would date back to that period).
Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the side aisles were raised to obtain rooms for the breeding of silkworms. Consequently, the church acquired a gabled facade instead of the previous salient one.

In 1772 the monastery of San Pietro in Gessate was suppressed and transformed into the seat of the male Orphanage managed by the Somaschi Fathers. Their management stopped in 1862, when the male orphanage and with it the Camuzzago complex passed under the control of the Municipality of Milan. In 1893 the entire complex was purchased by the noblewoman Paolina Radice, widow of Luigi Casanova, who entrusted its management to a farmer.
Following the suppression of the monastery and the consequent transformation into a purely agricultural village with the presence of numerous tenants, the attention for the church and its valuable frescoes was partially lost.
At the end of the nineteenth century a small artisan and manufacturing production were added to the agricultural activity. With the post-war period and the race to the cities, however, the definitive decline began, which continued until the complex, including the church, after various changes of ownership, in the late 80s of the last century was purchased by San Mauro spa, which began its renovation and transformation into a prestigious residential complex.

The Church of Santa Maria Maddalena is located in a slightly raised position and has a basilical structure with three naves without transept. Each nave ends with a semicircular apse. Note that the interior is not perfectly flat, but slightly inclined, with the presbytery placed slightly higher than the entrance.

Externally the church is very simple. The structure is entirely in river pebbles arranged in a herringbone pattern and exposed bricks. On the side that looks toward the outside of the complex and in which there are two orders of rectangular windows, the upper part corresponding to the elevation of the lateral naves is clearly recognizable.
Centrally stands a massive bell tower with arched openings at the top, with a predominantly brick structure.
The facade is very simple, gabled and equipped with an elegant portal in the center, with a central oculus above it and two polygonal side windows, added when the side aisles were raised.
At the rear, the central apse, equipped with three single lancet windows, has the typical Romanesque decoration with hanging arches and vertical pilasters.

Six pillars mark the division of the naves into four spans. The pillars are covered in stone, on the central nave they extend through pilasters up to the junction of the original roof. They originally had to be richly frescoed, today only a small part of these pictorial decorations remain.
Note also the presence of paired columns with cubic capitals on the side facing the hall of the arch that delimits the presbytery.

The church is devoid of sculptural decorations but has important pictorial decorations. The side apses are currently bare, except for a coffered and rosette decoration under the entrance arches and a division of the barrel vaults into four rectangular areas with a circular area in the center occupied by a coat of arms.

The great treasure of the church is represented by the cycle of frescoes dedicated to Mary Magdalene present in the central apse. It was painted by Bernardino Butinone from Treviglio and his workshop. It was the last work made by Butinone and therefore dates back to the first decade of the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately, the large baroque stone altar no longer allows you to admire the pictorial cycle in its entirety with a single glance.
The cycle should be read from left to right.

  • The Dinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee is depicted on the left wall. The scene is framed within a large open window. In the foreground there is Mary Magdalene intent on washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her very long hair and sprinkling them with ointments. Jesus is at the head of the table, while three other diners, richly dressed, sit behind the table.

  • In the apsidal basin, inside a band frame containing grotesque decorations, the risen Christ is depicted appearing to the Magdalene. However, the fresco actually summarizes various episodes narrated in the Gospels. The two gesticulating female figures on the far left would correspond to the Marys at the Sepulcher of Christ. In the center the Resurrection of Christ, with the latter in the center of an almond of light, wrapped in a voluminous white cloth and with the cross banner in his left hand. The right hand of Christ is instead extended towards the kneeling Magdalene, in accordance with the iconography of the Noli Me Tangere. In the right half of the fresco the empty tomb of Jesus watched over by two angels, very similar to those present on the vault of the Grifi Chapel in the Church of San Pietro in Gessate in Milan.

  • On the right wall the Last Communion of Maria Magdalene, a fresco which in reality includes three scenes: on the bottom the Magdalene wrapped only by her hair while leading an ascetic life (according to legend in the impervious regions of south France), in the foreground the genuflected Magdalene while receiving communion from San Massimino, bishop of Marseille. Finally, above, the saint is carried to heaven by four angels.

In the central apse there are also other valuable frescoes:

  • Saints Peter and Paul are depicted on the two pillars of the presbytery. In this case the author is Nicola Mangone, called Moietta.

  • The barrel vault of the presbytery shows a coffered decoration with rosettes and three perspective oculi containing images of St. John the Baptist (left), God the Father blessing (in the center) and Penitent St. Jerome (right).

  • On the underarch of the entrance arch of the presbytery, within perspective oculi, two busts of holy monks.

  • Along the walls of the apse, four angels are frescoed. On the left there is an angel in a white robe holding a thurible and the archangel Michael holding the scales with which he weighs souls with one hand, and sticking his sword in the body of Lucifer lying at his feet with the other. On the right there is another angel holding the thurible and the archangel Raphael who with one hand holds the incense boat and with the other guides the little Tobias.

  • Finally, in the lower part of the walls there are panels with grotesque ornaments (plants, birds, mice, dragons, harpies, elves and severed heads).
    Here and there liturgical objects placed on the marcapiano complete the decoration with a further illusionistic effect.

Also in other parts of the church there are noteworthy frescoes:

  • On the side towards the entrance of the penultimate pillar there is a Santa Apollonia attributed to Moietta. The saint, almost life-size, is represented standing on a perspective shelf that emerges from a shallow cubic niche.

  • On the side towards the center of the nave of the second right pillar there is a Nursing Madonna.

  • On the walls above the dividing arches of the spans there are rounds containing the symbols of the Eucharist. However, these are decorations dating back to the twentieth century.

Although radically renovated and transformed into a prestigious residential complex accessible only to residents, the structure of the village has remained largely unchanged. The complex is divided into various rectangular courtyards surrounded by two or three-storey buildings with the typical structure of the Lombard farmhouses. The Court of the Well (or Corte Rustica) still retains traces of the well that already in the seventeenth century was in the center of it.
the Court of the Farmer is instead delimited on one side by a building more elegant than the others, the so-called House of the Farmer, where the manager of the complex once resided.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena, SC Camuzzago, 20882 Bellusco MB
Further pictures of Church of Santa Maria Maddalena in the section Photography
Bellusco (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Apsidal basin of the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Bellusco (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Fresco of St. Apollonia in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
Bellusco (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Nursing Virgin in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena