A leap into the 13th - 16th centuries in the Duchy of Milan
We begin our tour at a building that is characterised by its red colour, typical of Lombard constructions. This here, was an abbey built in the second half of the 14th century CE by the friars of the Augustinian Order. These monks made it the parish of the Visconti castle of Cusago and the most profitable and productive farm in that area.
It must be mended that these heavily agricultural and cultivated areas were once wooded and wild in times gone by. The few inhabited spots were characterised by small villages along the roads, or in this case, religious centres. The monks retired to these communities following the “ora et labora” (pray and work) rule, devoting most of their time to clearing the surrounding areas, cultivation and prayer.
The atmosphere here, therefore, was quite different from the one we observe today. Looking at the surrounding areas, expanses of fields open up before our eyes, where the imprint of humankind is very strong. Back then, the scenery was much more diverse, but today, due to an increasingly productive and consumerist society, every piece of land is forced to cultivate. We could probably see many cultivated fields where we now stand, but each patch of land was surrounded by shrubs and trees and then expanded into veritable forests where the farmers’ hand did not reach.
Looking at this structure, we can imagine times gone by and reason about the evolution of time.
The interior is decorated with a fascia depicting alternating Visconti and Scaligeri coats of arms, nowadays visible in places as it is one of the oldest decorations, dating back to the time of Bernabò Visconti.
The name Santa Maria Rossa of this abbey derives from the colour of the robes in which the Virgin is portrayed in an interior fresco, still visible today. The walls were decorated with other frescoes dating back to the end of the 14th century, which were recovered in 1955. In 1954, the land owner agreed with the Superintendency: he ceded – free of charge – five frescoes to the authority, but the latter would take care of the tear and grant the usufruct as an agricultural warehouse. The torn frescoes are currently kept in the picture gallery of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
We now move on to the next point, the castle of Cusago, which tells us more about the role and importance of these lands through the lens of the powerful families that dominated Milan.