Bobbio and St. Columba’s abbey
Bobbio is in a strategic position along the street leading to Genoa and Liguria across Trebbia Valley and to this it owes its historical function of meeting and trading place between different peoples. The area is also endowed with several natural resources, namely a climate ideal for cultivations, clay and salty waters on the right bank of the river. Importatnt archaeological remains on Monte Groppo nearby witness the continuous existence of human communities from the neolithic up to the iron age, when the Ligurians settled here (see the remarklable finds preserved at Museo Archeologico di Genova Pegli and at Istituto di Geologia dell'Università di Genova). The name Bobbio itself probably derives from the Ligurian toponym boiel quoted – in the latin expression Saltus Boielis – as the name of a stream flowing down Mount Penice Veleia’s Tabula Alimentaria. The name is probably related to the gaul Boi people, who succeded to the Ligurians in the area between the 5th and 4th century B.C. After that the valley was occupied by the romans. The town of Bobbio probably originated from the roman colonization, at the beginning of the imperial age. At the end of the 4th century, Savino, disciple of Ambrogio, bishop of Piacenza, promoted the conversion to Christianity of The Trebbia Valley.
In 614 the Irish monk Columba, at the end of his long travel to convert Europe to Christianity, was granted the use of the lands in the valley and half of the profits of the salt pans deriving from the exploitation of the Thermal water by the Longobardic king Agilulfo, influenced by his wife, Teodolinda. Once arrived in Bobbio, he founded the first nucleus of the Monastery upon the ruins of the ancient church of S. Pietro (S. Peter’s church) dating back to the early years of Christianity. Some documents witness that at the half of the 9th century the abbot Agilulfo moved the monastery to the area where it still is today. During the carolingian period the monastery of Bobbio was extremely active, and the importance of its scriptorium, where 700 manuscripts were preserved, is very remarkable. From the end of the 11th century on the Roman Church kept promoting religious pilgrimages and the importance for Christians of the visit of "Sacred places" among which Jerusalem was the most meaningful one; therefore Bobbio became very important in the system of pilgrim route, thannks to its dominating position in caminus Ianuae. Al XII secolo, infatti, risale la ristrutturazione della basilica agilulfiana. The restoration to Agilulfo’s basilica dates back to the 12th century. And evidence of the romanescque building was found by chance in 1910 during excavations in front of the crypt: two meters below the present level a floor jigsaw representing the Monthsof the year and biblical scenes was found. The present basilica dates back to the half of the 15th century and includes the former building. St. Columba’s sarcophagus, dated 1480, lies in the crypt.The walls are decorated by the sepulcres of S. Attala and S. Bertulfo, first successors of S. Columba, refined examples of longobardic symbolic sculpture. The beautiful wrought iron gate dates back to the 12th-13th century.
In the 15th century the monks gave most of their codex to Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Vaticana. The elegant arcading that leads into the museum dates back to the 16th century.
Il Museo dell'abbazia (THE ABBEY MUSEUM)
The museum was inaugurated in 1961 and has been recently rearranged. It’s located in the areas of the monastery devoted to the liberal arts and to scriptorium and it contains both religious objects and objects witnessing the history of the town, which was connected to the monastery for long. The exhibits – including archaeological finds and stone architectural and sculpture items from the pre-romanesque building as well as religious ornaments and paintings – date back to a period ranging from the roman time up to the 16th century.
Among the roman finds, we must mention "Tomba Cocceia" (Cocceia Tomb) dating back to the 4th century and found in 1910 in the crypt of the basilica and some amphoras of the same period found in 1856 in the area of Coniolo. Another remarkable object is a precious ivory reliquary called Teca d'Orfeo (Orpheus’ reliquary) made from a big elephant tusk and representing Orpheus taming animals. No agreement has been reached as to the exact period of production of such object, which may range from the 2nd to the 5th century.
Palestinian metal cruets and glass, wood, clay eulogies date back to the 6th century and were brought by the monks back from ther pilgrimages. The stone slab given to Cumiano by king Liutprando dates back to the Longobardic period. Fragments with curving and vortex or double spiral decoration dating back to the 9th-10th century represent evidence of the basilica.
The museum also preserves a 15th century Pisa school Madonna, a wooden statue representing ST. Columba and, among the paintings, an altarpiece by Bernardino Luini, ordered by G. B. Bagarotto bishop of Bobbio and undoubtedly dating back to 1522, according to some letters written by Bagarotto himself. It was made of several parts, some of which were lost;at first located over the main altar of Bobbio’s cathedral, it represents, in the central part, the assumption of the Virgin, surrounded by the apostles and overlooked by some musician angels; the central pieces had a frame, which no longer exists, with hinges that supported the side parts, composed by 4 large boards painted on both sides and representing Fathers of the Church and Saints.