Church of St. John the Baptist - Virgo Fidelis Shrine (Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista - Santuario Virgo Fidelis)
The Church of St. John the Baptist soars on the highest point of Borgo Villa, in Incisa Scapaccino.
It is the first shrine in Italy dedicated to the Carabinieri: Virgo Fidelis, in fact, is the patron saint of the police force.
The building was reopened to the public on October 3, 2014 after extensive restoration work.
The first reliable reference that allows us to have evidence of the presence of the church in Incisa is dated 1254; a subsequent document dated August 4, 1282 shows that in San Giovanni there was, de longa consuetudine ibidem diutius observata, a group formed by a provost and three canons.
Although the paper does not specify it, the religious mentioned constituted a part of the collegiate established at the pieve from the earliest days of its foundation and formed not only by the above-mentioned members but also by an archpriest.
The church, which the document induces us to believe has existed for a long time, must therefore be considered coeval, if not anterior, to the castle, which belonged to Bonifacio d'Incisa. it is to be assumed, in fact, that at the same time as the work of encastellation of the Villa hill, the feudal lords and the community felt the need for a place of worship, to which they allocated a pre-existing chapel, perhaps enlarged or, more likely, building a new sacred building.
It could then go back to the marquises to call the canons and provost to take up residence at the new church, which, under the title of St. John, thus assumed the seat of the provostry, while the archpriest, who was responsible for the spiritual care of the faithful, would remain in the original plebeian residence.
The prevostura church stood on the same area where the present one was later built, and the space overlooked by the churchyard today was occupied by the cemetery; a short stretch of road connected it, through the gate of San Giovanni, to the castle.
In 1514, during the sacking of Incisa and the storming of the fortress, the Monferrato artilleries also struck the sacred building, which was demolished in totum except for the bell tower. Of the initial construction no depiction is available except for a watercolor from the second half of the 19th century, the origin and reliability of which is unknown, according to which the church would have had three naves with the central one considerably higher than the lateral ones.
Reconstruction after the sacking took place only after many years because of the turbulent political situation involving the marquisate of Incisa and the area around it.
The people of Incisa, however, did not seem to mourn the lack of a parish church as they were now accustomed to attending the rectory house and the nearby Oratory of the Disciplinati where the Divine Offices were regularly celebrated. In 1568, accompanying the "cutting of the Belbo" project (which was never carried out) appears a pen and watercolor drawing of the church as if it had already been rebuilt, however, the first document revealing a specific commitment by the municipality and the provost to end the delays is five years later dating back to October 21, 1573.
Observing the aforementioned depiction, we can see that the exterior typology of the building corresponds to that of the future church: a gabled building with a facade facing south and four windows facing west, as a later sketch made in 1638 shows us for the eastern side. It can therefore be assumed that the plan, prepared some time ago, was known to the draftsman who used it in his work.
The plan called for a decorous one-nave building flanked by two alae.
The work entrusted to the faber murarius Lorenzo Piana civis aqensis, was begun and continued with promptness. The work was completed in the spring of 1575.
The church appeared to have a single nave with three altars: the high altar and two others erected behind the walls, one of which was dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and the other reserved for the archpriest.
The old bell tower belonging to the municipality, which used it for the convocation of the council and other special uses, was preserved.
It was not until 1581 that the parish priest Don Anselmo Avellano settled in Incisa.
The pillages suffered by Incisa in the 17th century, especially those of 1637 by the Spanish soldiers besieging Nizza Monferrato and 1642 by the French, as well as the frequent raids consumed by passing armies, did not spare the church of S. Giovanni, even though the sacred places, by virtue of the special prerogative, should not have been violated.
At the beginning of the 18th century the building "threatened to ruin."
The community and the parish priest, favored by the coming of better times, and urged moreover by the increase in population, agreed to enlarge it.
Two side aisles were added to the central part and a new facade was raised, advancing it five meters toward the square. When the work was completed, the church measured m 31 in length and m 16.50 in width. Subsequently the renovation and furnishing work was continued, and on September 25, 1831 the new valuable marble baptismal font was blessed and inaugurated.
Recently, in 1978, there were, as before, cracks and subsidence in the floor and serious injuries in the supporting structures that made the church unfit for use.
Having transferred the services to the church of the Carmine, which had undergone recent consolidation and restoration work, the parish priest Don Secondo Belizzone did not remain indifferent or inert in the face of the desolating spectacle and promptly interested the competent bodies, but the responses were not reassuring and the heartfelt appeals fell on deaf ears.
Recently, as a result of the interest of the newly formed committee of citizens of Incisi aimed at recovering the monument to the historical-religious and artistic heritage, allocations have been obtained from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the Regione Piemonte and the Municipality that have been used for the most urgent interventions.
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- Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Incisa Scapaccino)
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