The second Columbanus: Life and Legacy field school at Bobbio has just wrapped up in the last few days with a quite spectacular discovery. The field school, organized by the Università del Piemonte Orientale, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, revolved around excavation in the Basilica di San Columbano. (opposite Prof. Destefanis conducts public talk on excavations)
The excavation was planned thanks to an agreement signed between the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Emilia Romagna (the regional district office of the Italian Ministry of Culture and Heritage ) who granted permission for the work, and Università del Piemonte Orientale, which carried the field school and the organization of the excavation, directed by Roberta Conversi and Eleonora Destefanis.
Postgraduate students from Ireland, Italy, France and the USA participated in the school. In addition to the excavation experience and training, they had workshops from Thomas Chenal (University of Besançon) on 3D digital imaging, Yolande O’Brien (NUI Galway) on digital predictive modelling, and on the Bobbio and Clonmore reliquaries with Conor Newman and Cormac Bourke. As guests of Dr Roberta Conversi of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell‘Emilia-Romagna, they had study visits to Travo (Piacenza) and Parma.
The position of the cutting was guided by georadar survey in 2014 organised by Sebastian Bully (who excavated at Luxeuil and Annegray and runs the Annegray Field School) on behalf of the Scientific Committee of the international Making Europe: Columbanus and his Legacy Project. At a depth of about 1.80m below the level of the nave of the Basilica, the excavators came down onto the threshold (above), jambs and façade of an earlier, possibly Romanesque, church. Among the finds are fragments of frescoes, stucco fragments and inscribed bricks.
Clearly, there is a lot more to be discovered at Bobbio.: the excavation has not yet reached the level of the famous mosaic floor in the crypt of the present church. We hope to find the resources to do this over the next few years. Meanwhile, the project is indebted to the Andrew Mellon Foundation for sponsoring the students to participate in this and the other field schools associated with the project.
The excavations were not just of academic interest; there was a constant stream of visitors from the locale to the excavations. In addition to daily guided tours, the numbers of people who attended the final public exposition of the work is perhaps the most eloquent declaration of the enduring attraction of the past and its legacies to the future.
Excavation in the nave of the Basilica is the fulfillment of dream for the researchers Columbanus and his legacy in Bobbio. Very many thanks are due to Don Mario Poggi and the parishioners of Bobbio for putting up with the inconvenience of an archaeological excavation in the nave of their beloved Basilica. Dr. Roberta Conversi, Prof. Eleonora Destefanis, Dr Nadia Botalla Buscaglia, and Davide Casagrande.