Leggio 4 Eng: The lost church of Londa

18 Mar 22 | Percorso Guidato di Londa

The ancient church of Londa was San Michele a Moscia, located along the bank of the Moscia river, in an upstream position from the current town of Londa. Its existence is attested as early as the 13th century as a parish church in the district. Today nothing remains of the church of San Michele but its memory because in the 16th century there was a violent flood which destroyed it entirely (It is thought that this event coincides with the events of 1547, the year in which numerous chronicles of the time report major damage to bridges, roads and buildings in Val di Sieve: the most famous catastrophic event was the destruction of the ancient Pontassieve bridge (then named Castel Sant’Angelo), later replaced with the current Ponte Mediceo, commissioned by Cosimo I de’Medici). 

A new place of worship was built further downstream, at the head of the Londa bridge: the church of Sant’Ansano Martire. This church, which had served as a parish for the peoples of Londa and Vicorati, was abandoned and later dismantled, in favor of the current church of the Santissima Concezione in Londa as early as 1569, as a suffragan of the Pieve di San Leolino in Monte which and was erected as a parish only in 1795.

The Church of Sant’Elena in Rincine is one of the most important ancient churches in the Londa area. Recorded only in 1274 and 1299 as depending on the parish of San Detole, it would actually be much older. Once dedicated to Santa Maria (an example of the very extensive repertoire of Marian cult buildings in Val di Sieve), it owes its current name to a fascinating legend: the church is in fact dedicated to Sant’Elena, Empress mother of Constantine, first Christian Emperor! Flavia Giulia Elena, born in Drepanum (Elenopoli) in 248 AD. she would have retired to a penitent life in Rincine, in a small cave near Lake Aina. Her hermitage took place around 293 AD, when her husband Costanzo Cloro was appointed Caesar by the Emperor Diocletian. The latter, finding the marital union with a woman of plebeian origin incompatible for the title of Caesar, forced him to divorce with his wife Elena. According to the ancient chronicles, Elena was the one who discovered one of the most important relics of Christianity: the “True Cross” of Christ; furthermore, the conversion of her son Constantine to Christianity is attributed to her, thus “baptizing” him as the first Roman Christian Emperor. Although this is only a legend, it was perhaps his retreat to the forests of Rincine that inspired her faith and contributed to changing the Roman Empire forever.

Particular mention is needed for the Pieve di San Leolino a Monti and the dynamics linked to its saint: the first information of the parish church dates back to 1103 from a bull of Pope Paschal II. But today the history of this place remains a mystery. An ancient document states that here, under Marcus Aurelius Maximian (Augustus of the Western Roman Empire), between 292 and 305 AD. Leolino was martyred. At the very moment in which he was beheaded, a cross appeared in the sky “Sancto crux imprimitur” which converted all present people. It is curious to note that in the same period, Sant’Elena was also in the same area and in the same year, and the findings of the true cross of the saint could match with the one shown by San Leolino!

The mysterious crosses carved in stone which are found on the side wall of the church are very suggestive. This church has a single nave of a Romanesque basilica type with a tripartite apse typical of the Arezzo style, brought here by the Guidi Counts.