Art & Culture

The history of the Hypogeum of Santa Maria in Stelle

Ipogeo Panteon Santa Maria di Stelle Valpantena

The history

Hypogeum. What a strange word, with fascinating phonetics. Hypogeum. This term can be used as an adjective, sometimes also as a noun. The origin hides, in a not too veiled way, the definition of a place that is located below the earth's surface. A hypogeum is an underground construction, in fact, which readapts natural or artificial cavities that develop particular anthropological and historical attention over time. The hypogeum in Santa Maria in Stelle, at the beginning of the Valpantena, is one of a kind. To generate an aura of mystery around this structure obtained in the basement is the ambiguity of its origins, which presumably began as an aqueduct work thanks to the Gens Pomponia, a family nucleus of ancient Rome in the 1st century AD. In the following centuries the hypogeum was readapted by Publio Pomponio Corneliano into a sacred place, a nymphaeum. Thanks to San Zeno, it will become the first baptismal font outside the city of Verona in the 4th century AD. After assuming the role of structure used for catechesis, in the eighth century it became a pilgrimage destination for religious thanks to the presence of the Manus Dei, a new fresco. But it will only be Pope Urban III in the 9th century AD. to definitively sanction the Hypogeum of Santa Maria in Stelle which reaches the present day and from 2004 onwards, with the allocation of 420 thousand euros, the restoration work began, which continued up to the present day.

A trip to the hypogeum

The morphology of the Hypogeum of Santa Maria in Stelle, commonly called the 'pantheon', is as fascinating as it is diversified, due to the variety of spaces and layouts that compose it. From the lime basin dug out of the rock into which the groundwater flows, one continues along a narrow corridor where four wells can be crossed. After passing a series of steps, you reach a suggestive cross-shaped atrium with two semicircular rooms. Observing the environment around you, you can see a series of frescoes and mosaics that capture the visitor's attention. On the walls there are paintings that recall the period of catechesis, with references to the New and the Old Testament. One of the most recognizable characteristics of the hypogeum inside is the presence of concentric shapes capable of recalling commonly rolled up sacred texts. The presence of the Manus Dei stands out, recalling the period, in antiquity, in which it was forbidden to depict God in a whole image.

ipogeo panteon Santa Maria di Stelle Valpantena

I rilievi di Gaetano Cristofali

Nel XVIII secolo Gaetano Cristofali permise di riscoprire l'Ipogeo di Santa Maria in Stelle dopo un periodo nel quale il luogo veniva esclusivamente utilizzato come luogo di culto. Grazie agli splendidi rilievi in acquerello di Cristofali, nel Settecento la struttura è tornata sotto i riflettori, raccogliendo maggiori attenzioni anche al di fuori della comunità religiosa.