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Nonantola, agricultural centre a few miles from Modena has always been linked with the homonymous abbey, the abbey of San Silvestro, built in the 8th c. by Anselmo, the Lombard Duke of Friuli, and destined to become one of the most powerful religious and cultural centres in Italy. It passed to the Cistercians in 1514 and was suppressed in 1769. All that remains of the old complex is the church of San Silvestro. On the doorway, which is preceded by a pronaos (vestibule) with columns supported by lions, is a series of tiles depicting episodes in the life of Christ and events linked with the abbey.
Inside, the south aisle has a 15th-c. fresco. From the presbytery, with its lovely Gothic altar and marble reliefs by Silla Longhi, there are steps down into the huge crypt, which is supported by 64 little columns, some dating back to the 8th c. Next to the church is the ancient monastery, the refectory of which has admirable 11th and 12th-c. frescoes and a treasury of priceless miniatures and gold objects.
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