Romanic-Pisan church amongst the most beautiful in Southern Sardinia.
by Emanuele Atzori
On the East side of the village of UTA, just out of the village, there is the
beautiful Romanic church of S. Maria, considered one of the most important
religious monuments in the Southern part of Sardinia. Its particular
architectural structure has remained in very good conditions, safe from
modifications and robberies. It was built by the benedict monks from S. Vittore
di Marsiglia, (therefore called Vittorini) arrived in Sardinia during the second
half of the 11th century, because they had received churches and lands as a
In 1079, thanks to pope Gregory VII, friend of the Marseilles Richard, the
Vittorini obtained from Cagliari's judge Orzocco (Torchitorio I) the churches of
S. Giorgio and S. Genesio in countryside of Decimo, with the only condition of
building a cell expressly for them.
Orzocco's son, Costantino (Salusio II), confirmed the donation with a diploma on
June 30th 1089, also conceding the priory of the abandoned hermitage of Santu
Sadurru (San Saturnino), the Bagnaria hill, Quartu's saltworks, S.Bartolomeo's
fishponds, and other 8 churches of which S. Ambrogio of Itta.
The 8 churches donation was sanctioned by Cagliari's archbishop Ugone, in 1090,
but he indicates the church of S.Ambrogio as Uta's temple. In a diploma issued
in the following 1119, the archbishop Guglielmo confirmed all the donations to
the Vittorini and indicating Uta as S. Ambrogio's site.
Therefore it is possible that the Vittorini were in the area of Uta since the
end of XI century and that in the following century (XII) they built the church
of S.Maria and the monastery, probably because the old temple received as
donation had become unsuitable for their needs.
is no certain date but the historians believe that the church was built in the
period from 1135 and 1145, from various workforce: French, Tuscans and also
Arabic. This would be confirmed by the apse, where 2 crosses have been
sculptured, a French one and a Pisan one.
In 1258 Cagliari's Judgeship was dismembered and all the territories of Decimo's
Curia of which Uta was part of, remained in the hands of Gherardo della
Gherardesca, count of Donoratico. The supremacy of Pisa in Cagliari's
territories, determined an unfavourable situation for the Marseilles monks of S.
Maria's hermitage, so they had to leave the area leaving it to the Francescani
friars, a minor group of monks.
After the Aragonese conquest of the island, the ancient villas of Uta Jossu
(more or less where the actual centre of Uta is) and the ones of Uta Susu (that
standed near S.Maria's church) were given by the Infant Alfonso to the war
capitan Berengario Carroz, becoming part of Quirra's vast fief.
There were very few inhabitants in the 2 little villages and around 1584 the
area depopulated. The only human presence remained were the friars in the
The Francescani friars maintained S.Maria's church till the XVII century, when
Uta's village began
to populate and grow again, so much that the normal monastic practices were
disturbed. But an other reason could be that Cagliari's archibishop badly wanted
the beautiful temple dedicated to Our Lady. In fact during 1640, the church was
given to Cagliari's archibishop and the friars in exchange received the modest,
late-romanic church of S.Barbara, in the area of Capoterra, certainly more
suitable for a cloistered life.
The structure of the church
The building isn't very big but well-proportionate and rich of
architectonical motifs. Built with well shaped limestone squares coming from
Teulada's quarries, it is oriented, as all medieval churches, with the main
entrance towards West and the tabernacle towards East. Most probably it has been
built by both Pisan and Arabic workforce.
the facade it shows an horizontal frame with an Arabic influence design, that
goes right round the church. On the lower part (basement) it is divided
vertically in 3 sections (like the ones of the internal nave) by different width
pilasters. Two series of circular little hanging arches, supported by variously
sculptured corbels join the pilasters. There are 4 arches on the left side and 5
on the right side, although unequal quite harmonic. In the central part there is
the portal that leads to the main section of the nave. It is formed by a
monolithic architrave that leans on two jamb and an arch made with trachyte
stones alternated with white limestone squares. A beautiful bored rose is
inserted at the centre of the lunette while the two jamb have a Corinth style
capital. A geometric motif, repeated also on many corbels, is carved into the
arched lintel of the arches. The upper part of the facade is crowned by the
usual arch design (there are 7). Other than the Provencal influence the facade
shows also the Pisan characters that are repeated also inside, on the prominent
abacus and on the nave ceilings. The corbels are 200 and present various
decorations: leaves, human heads, knots, dears, roses, calfs, geometric figures.
These are Lombard influence designs that can also be found in the churches of
S.Maria in Ardara and S.Maria in Trattalias, S.Antioco di Bisarcio e S.Lorenzo
Decorating pilasters are disposed without a precise order and divide vertically
the side walls. In some places the pilasters aren't in line with the arch corbel.
The pilasters of the apsis wall appear neater. The basilical plan, mono-apsis,
longitudinally divided in three naves by arches supported by a series of columns,
some of which presumably come from an ancient Roman or Early Christian temple.
On the nave wings there are two marble lions that probably originally where
outside the building. Three steps give way to the presbytery, that is on a
higher level compared to the rest of the church.
The altar is supported by little columns with capitals that recall the ones in
the church of S.Maria of Ardara. The altar niche shows a simulacrum of Virgin
Mary, considered miraculous. The apsis is covered by a semi-circle cup made in
During the restoration of the floors some excavations have been made that have
shown the foundations of a church with a double apsis (typical by the Vittorini).
The plan of this temple is shown on the floors by the different color tiles. On
the central nave the cover of the saddle roof is supported by wooden trusses,
each of which lies on two wooden corbels. The lateral naves are covered by
slopes. The left lateral nave has a little door that in the past led to the
ancient hermitage and the close cemetery. The only remaining of the cloister is
a well from which gushes out a water that has miraculous virtues. A legend tells
that these virtues were revealed to the very ill keeper of the church by a
strange knight appeared to him: "Wash and pray" he said. The keeper
obeyed and recovered. From that moment the church became a pilgrimage
destination, particularly during the festivity celebrated on September 8th for
Mother Mary's birth. On the right lateral nave there is a door called the "holy
door" because opened only in the Jubilee years. During Jubilee 2000,
Cagliari's Archbishop, Ottorino Pietro Alberti, enclosed the Church of S. Maria
di Uta in the list of the diocese sanctuaries, where the faithful can gain the
indulgences. On September 10th of the same year, in the Sanctuary of
"Nostra Signora di Monserrato" (this is the name of Uta's Virgin
Mother) there has been the jubilee of the ill people, attended by 5.000 people,
blessed by the Archbishop.
Translated by Rossana Ornano
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e della Sardegna", Milano 1987.
Angius V. in Casalis, Dizionario geografico, storico, statistico, commerciale
degli stati di S. M. il Re di Sardegna, V. XXIII, Torino 1840, pp. 472 - 495.
Besta E., La Sardegna medioevale, Vol. I - II, Palermo 1908 - 1909.
Boscolo A., L'Abbazia di S. Vittore, Pisa e la Sardegna, Padova 1958.
Boscolo A., La Sardegna bizantina e alto - giudicale, Sassari 1978
Casula F. C., La Storia di Sardegna, Sassari 1992.
Day J., Villaggi abbandonati in Sardegna, Paris 1973, p. 30.
De Logu R., La Sardegna romanica, in "Il Ponte", anno VII, n.9.
Freddi M., La Chiesa di S.ta Maria di Uta, rilievo architettonico e commento
storico, Roma 1953.
Martini P., Storia ecclesiastica della Sardegna, Cagliari 1841.
Scano D., Chiese medievali in Sardegna, Cagliari 1929.
Scano D., Storia dell'arte in Sardegna dal sec. XI al sec. XIV, Sassari 1907.
Tola P., Codex Diplomaticus Sardiniae, Torino 1861.