A Romanic-Pisan church amongst the most beautiful in Southern Sardinia. 
by Emanuele Atzori

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The history
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 donation.
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.
There 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 convent.
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.
On 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 di Silanus.
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 stone ashlars.
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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