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The medieval rock bestiary of San Siro


Horror vacui is a latin saying wich means "fear of empty space", a common feature in the Romanesque carving, plenty of decorations with fantastic animals and christian symbols. The entrance portal of the Pieve di San Siro (11th century) at Cemmo, in Capo di Ponte, Camonica Valley, is a remarkable example of this habit to fill the entire surface of a space with details. Pieve is a rural church with a baptistery, upon which the nearby churches without baptisteries depended. The name comes from the latin plebs (people), referring to the earliest communities of baptized christians.

Besides the portal there are two capitals, with bicaudate mermaids, both human and savage, holding up their double tail with their hands, and with mythological amphisbaenas, a sort of two-headed snake, originated by the blood dripped from the Gorgon Medusa's head as Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with it in his hand. At the half-column bases there are a lion and a lamb, representing the double nature of Christ, human and divine, humble and regal at the same time.

The white marble fanlight above the portal is now in the original position, after years on a wall inside the church, replaced during restoration works in 1912. Under a winged cherub angel there is a latin inscription: "HINC DS INTRANTES AD TE BNDIC PROPERANTES", "God bless those who come here for approaching you". At the right side, there is a pelican: in the Middle ages it was considered a symbol of the Christ sacrifice; on the left, amphisbaenas and plant spirals, flowers and little palms, typical elements of the Langobardic art. In the northern apse there are evidences of a previous building, a barrel vault and bearing walls, maybe the remains of a little Langobardic church.

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