The St. Andrew Abbey
Constructed in just eight years, St. Andrew Abbey has been representing not only an extraordinary architectural combination of different architectural styles that merge together with grace and incomparable harmony but also, for more than eight hundred years, it has been the majestic symbol of Vercelli.
St. Andrew Abbey: between Gothic and Romanesque architecture
St. Andrew Abbey was built between 1219 and 1227, thanks to the will and the financial resources of Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, the descendant of one of the noblest and powerful families of Vercelli and a skilled diplomat of the time. Regarding its Romanesque-Gothic architecture, the Abbey of St. Andrew surprises for its majestic lightness, formal elegance, and decorative details. Even if the name of the architect of the project is still unknown, the architectural uniqueness of the building is based on the perfect combination of the Romanesque lines of northern Italy and the Gothic lines beyond the Alps. Despite having undergone major renovations over the centuries, the Abbey still holds intact the charm and unique features that make it one of the greatest masterpieces of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in the world.
From the outside, the Basilica appears imposing, characterized by four vertical structures: the two frontal towers, tiburium, and lateral bell tower. Access to the Basilica is through three splendid portals surmounted by marvelous lunettes by apprentices of Benedetto Antelami. The chromatic effect created by the different materials used for the construction is remarkable: the gray-green of the Valsesian stone that covers most of the facade; the white of the sandstone of the small columns and of the capitals of the loggias; and the red of the bricks that rises in the upper part of the towers.
The interior, simple and without furnishings, has solemn proportions and is lit by magnificent rose windows and large windows that highlight the sequence of red and white materials and the construction lines. The three large naves split by wide pointed arches supported by cylindrical pillars, end with a very high transept where, at the center, the majestic octagonal lantern stands. At the sides of the presbytery, which houses a precious wooden choir of the fourteenth century, there are four apsidal chapels. Among these, the most interesting one hosts the funeral monument of Tommaso Gallo, the first abbot of St. Andrew.
Cloister and Chapter House
The Abbey complex, which housed the dwellings and the rooms used by the priests, rises to the side of the Basilica. The first priests called by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri to govern the Abbey were the Augustinian Canons of San Vittore of Paris, who were then replaced in 1467 by the Canons Regular of Lateran, who governed the Abbey until the twentieth century.
The Chapter House
This hall, considered one of the most beautiful in Italy, is so-called because it was the place where the Chapter, the collegial body of the priests, used to meet. It has a square floor plan, covered by ribbed vaults resting on four central stone columns. Inside, it hosts two frescoes attributed to Bernadino Lanino, a sixteenth-century artist from Vercelli. The hall, in addition to its beauty, is of considerable historical value for the city:here in 1310, at the presence of Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg, the peace between the Guelphs and Ghibellines of Vercelli was signed.
The CloisterDespite having undergone major renovations over the centuries, the cloister still appears to be a charming environment, a place of peace and meditation. Closed on three sides by the buildings of the Abbey and on one side by the Basilica itself, it preserves a magnificent arcade with terracotta frames and fourteenth-century paintings. At the center of the cloister, there is a well from which it is possible to enjoy a spectacular overall view of St. Andrew Abbey.