In Late Antiquity, the most important town in Puglia was Canosa, which had achieved great distinction between 514 and 566, thanks to the works promoted by Bishop Sabinus, the dedicatee of the Cathedral that hosts his remains, miraculously reappeared in town after his death near Potenza, according to hagiographic legend.
Canosa, even during the Early Middle Ages, since it was located on the Via Appia-Traiana, was considered a very important strategic centre through which the Lombards, who wanted to contain the Byzantine influence, could control the South of Italy.
The Cathedral, located in the main square of the town is worth visiting. It was built in the 9th century and consecrated in 1101 by Pope Paschal II. It is not clear what is left of its original appearance or how deep the changes it has undergone over the centuries are. The external facade, entirely rebuilt in the first decades of the 19th century, is definitely the most damaged part.
On the contrary, the interior preserves its old Medieval charm: the cruciform architecture has an extremely original covering solution, with three aligned domes, located over the nave longways, and other two domes on the transept wings.
There are valuable ancient spolia material inside, derived from old Roman buildings; in particular, the beautiful green marble columns that mark the nave are worth noting.
Among the liturgical furnishings, it is possible to admire a cathedra and a highly valuable carved pulpit, which document the early influence of the Romanesque style on the region and its singular Apulian interpretation.
Canosa, Cathedral, interior.
(Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59320598)
Canosa, Cathedral, interior, the bishop’s throne
(Von Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59320341)
In the middle of the apse, behind the high altar, the traveler may admire a very beautiful marble throne, built between 1079 and 1089 for Bishop Ursone by a sculptor named Romualdus, who left his signature on one of the arms of the precious seat.
The bishop’s throne, partly made up of pieces from an older one, is supported by two imposing, austere and rigid sculpted elephants, which seem to walk frontally in time. They bear two sheets on their back, decorated with lion heads and plant motifs, which support the seat raised on the front by a sheet ornate with two eagles facing the viewer within a rinceau frame.
The arms rest on carved panels with oriental and mythical animals, sphynxes and griffins, which will be officially part of the Apulian Romanesque sculpture decoration over the 12th century.
In this throne, the already Romanesque immediacy of expression coexists with the Byzantine and Eastern geometric elegance, monumentally expressed especially in the imposing elephants bearing the throne.
Moving onto the nave, it is possible to admire the marble pulpit built by the sculptor Acceptus, dating back to the first decades of the 11th century.
This artwork in Canosa documents how in Puglia, already in the 11th century, Byzantine and Eastern art combines with a more realistic and expressive style, which is purely European and Romanesque.
Canosa, Cathedral, interior, the pulpit.
( Von Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59320195)
P. Belli d’Elia, Alle Sorgenti del Romanico. Puglia XI secolo, Edizioni Dedalo, Bari 1975;
F. Abbate, Storia dell’arte nell’Italia meridionale. Dai longobardi agli svevi, Donzelli editore, Roma 1997.