The origins of the Grange 1

The origins of the Grange

The success of the agrarian economy of the Cistercians and its superiority over large landholdings, a reality now outdated and in continuous decline, were due above all to their extraordinary ability to organize and plan the exploitation of the Order's innumerable properties. The Cistercian colonists, in fact, worked for themselves, as their survival depended precisely on their work; the abbot then exercised his constant control over the exploitation of all land possessions. In order to be able to control and take care of each possession in the best possible way, the most successful instrument was the organization of granges, or monastic agricultural settlements, which combined the advantages of central planning with local autonomy. Although there had already been precedents, the granges can be considered characteristics of early Cistercian agriculture. When the monks' properties became excessively large, they were divided into individual plots of about four hundred or five hundred acres, then subsequently fenced. Inside them, buildings were built for purely practical purposes, as they were used as homes by a group of lay brothers, as well as to collect the farm animals and to store both the essential tools and the produce of the harvest. According to the most ancient rules, the granges should not be more than a day's walk from the abbey, in order to be constantly monitored and to allow the lay brothers to return to the abbey every Sunday for religious duties.

During the 12th century, the normal management of the granges was entrusted exclusively to the lay brothers, even if at the time of plowing or harvesting external labor was frequently used. As time passed, however, the multiplication of the granges made the help of the inhabitants of the nearby villages increasingly indispensable. The first buildings constructed for the Cistercian granges did not include a chapel, as the brothers were required to return to the abbey for religious offices. With the progressive increase of distances, however, this became unachievable, and therefore chapels began to be built; However, the abbey continued to exercise its control in this area too, as the daily celebration of the Eucharist could only be organized thanks to the permission of the bishop of the diocese, who, before granting it, ensured that the chapel would not be entered. in competition with the nearest parish church. The group of grange buildings was often surrounded by walls or moats, to prevent thefts or raids. In moments of greatest danger the servants of the abbey were armed, in order to ensure its defense. The Abbey of Santa Maria di Lucedio was founded by some Cistercian monks from the monastery of La Ferté in Chalonsur-Saône, in Burgundy, on land donated to them by the Marquis Ranieri I of Monferrato, belonging to the Aleramici dynasty. It was land to be reclaimed, as it was marshy and covered by vast and uncultivated thickets, called Locez, from which the name of the abbey derived, which has remained unchanged over the centuries. These first donations from the Aleramici to the abbey were of fundamental importance, as the political and economic importance of the monastery began to be based on these acts, which then grew considerably during the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, in correspondence with a very vast territorial expansion. The land heritage of the abbey extended well beyond the lands close to the monastery (with the granges of Montarolo, Darola, Castelmerlino, Leri, Montarucco, Ramezzana, Cornale and Gaiano), also including plots located in a large area of Monferrato and the Canavese. Furthermore, the abbey of Rivalta Scrivia was born in 1171, as a subsidiary of that of Lucedio.

In 1457, with a brief from Pope Callixtus III, the abbey became a Commandery, passing under the patronage of the Paleologi, marquises of Monferrato, who thus acquired the right to appoint the abbot and collect the revenues. Subsequently, the fiefdom passed to the Gonzagas, who took over from Casale in the regency of Monferrato. In 1707, the Savoy managed to take possession of the abbey. In 1784 it was secularized and its granges became part of the Magistral Commandery of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. The Cistercian monks, now reduced to about ten, were transferred to Castelnuovo Scrivia. In 1792, the Order of San Maurizio conferred the commendation on Duke Vittorio Emanuele I of Savoy, however after a few years the monastery fell under the Napoleonic decrees of suppression. Napoleon then ceded the property of Lucedio to Camillo Borghese, to compensate him for the art collections that had been requisitioned from him in Rome. After the fall of Napoleon, a long debate began between Camillo Borghese and the Savoys over the possession of Lucedio. It was therefore decided to divide the properties into lots and sell them to various people, including Camillo Benso's father, Count of Cavour; the lot including the Abbey of Lucedio came under the control of the Marquis Giovanni Gozzani of San Giorgio who, in 1861, in turn ceded it to the Genoese Duke Raffaele de Ferrari of Galliera, to whom the Savoys conferred the right to honor themselves with the title of Prince. Thus, was born the Principality of Lucedio, a name that we can still observe today on the entrance portal of the estate, currently belonging to the Cavalli d'Olivola family. The abbey of Lucedio presents itself today as a large and modern agricultural company.

Of the ancient medieval monastery, built in the 12th century and then expanded over the following two centuries, in addition to the surrounding walls that enclosed it, notable architectural structures have been preserved, among which we remember the octagonal bell tower, resting on a pre-existing square base , in Lombard Gothic style; the cloister; the chapter house with stone columns and capitals of early medieval style; finally, the refectory with slender ribbed vaults resting on low columns. The ancient abbey church, which had become unsafe, was demolished to allow the monk-architect Valente de Giovanni to create a new building, that is, a new church built between 1767 and 1770, following elegant baroque forms. Inside the city walls we find a second church: the church of the people, built in 1741 for sacred functions intended for peasant families and common people residing in Lucedio. Today the church - designed by Giovanni Tommaso Prunotto, Juvarra's collaborator - has been reduced to an agricultural warehouse; however, we can still admire its late Baroque lines.

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