PIEVE THO

Pieve Tho (San Giovanni in Ottavo, mother church of the Valley of the river Lamone) – km 86,5

We must first explain the origin of the word “Tho” which means “eighth” and is a typically dialectical construct because the church was built on the roman road which led from Faenza to Tuscany along the Valley of the Lamone and is situated exactly on the eighth milestone from the roman Via Emilia. The Pieve is located a little more than a kilometer from Brisighella.

It is the oldest sacred building of the valley and for centuries had maintained its jurisdiction over a vast territory. The first document that records its existence dates back to the year 909 and is a feudal land contract between a landowner and a tenant. This precious document is preserved in the archives of the Arch Bishopric of Ravenna. The Pieve enjoyed many privileges one of which was that of demanding a coin from every artisan in the area. In addition, when the lands were surveyed the subjects of the county were required to refer to the “perch” of San Giovanni in Ottavo.

There are many legends that refer to this ancient ecclesiastical edifice. Some date its origins back to the daughter of the Emperor Theodosius, Galla Placidia, who on her return to her seat at Ravenna ordered the church to be built to keep faith with a vow she had taken after a fortunate escape during a storm near the port of Livorno.  On the other hand, others maintain (firstly Francesco Maria Saletti in his “Comentario”) that the church rises over the ruins of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the god Jupiter Ammon that in very ancient  times was the subject of much worship by the people of the valley. In the course of the sixteenth century Giovanni Maria Calegari (1527-1613), an illustrious prelate from Brisighella, made a number of modifications to the church, such as lengthening the two colonnades, raising the height of the floor, and building a new central altar.

Its interior is truly fascinating, built in Romanesque style on the model of a basilica with three naves divided by that rest on twelve columns of granite or red marble from Verona that are each different in size and width. The building material is nothing other than recycled material gathered from the territory and beyond by the first adepts to the Christian faith. The exterior is of spellbinding architectural beauty, particularly the walls of the central nave that present decorations of arcs and columns located amongst small windows and the artistic apse with its elegant mullioned window that came to light during the complex restorations undertaken between 1928 and 1929. In addition, the church is completed by a square bell tower that dates back to end of the first millennium and is 21m high (and may have once been a watch tower).

The major altar, that now faces the worshipers, conserves a sandstone lunette (that may once have been the cover of a sixth century roman sarcophagus from Ravenna) which is the subject of varying interpretations. To the right as we enter an artistic first century Corinthian capital covered with acanthus leaves transformed into a stoop for holy water.

Always to the right of the church, the fourth column there is a sculpted roman inscription. The origin of this column is unknown and scholars have formed a number of suppositions as to where it may have come. Some maintain that it may have been a milestone column, others that it was a devotional stone dedicated to the emperors named in the inscription and others have made various other suppositions.  What is certain is that this ancient inscription today is still the subject of much debate.

Also in the nave to the right, near the altar dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abate (by the sculptors Ballanti and Graziani from Faenza) is a rare funerary headstone with a moderate inscription in memory mother of the prior Giovanni Raccagni who died in this church where her son was the parish priest. The historian of ceramics Gaetano Ballardini (1878 -1953) considered this a rare find of great value because funereal inscriptions on ceramics are rare. Still to the right in the recess there is an altar piece that represents a Madonna with Child and the saints John the Baptist and Saint Anthony of Padua. This painting is the work of the painters sixteenth century Scaletti and Mengari who were well known in the territory surrounding Faenza.

Piero Malpezzi