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The site of the crypt of Saint Anastasius in Asti is definitely full of charm. Hidden from the eyes of passers-by walking through Corso Alfieri, it remained unknown to most for a long time, to be brought to light between the end of the Nineteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth century. Inside, one of the sections visible thanks to the archeological excavations is the ancient Lombard cemetery.

Lombards in Asti and the origin of the cemetery. With the infiltration of people of Germanic origin in Italian territory, the use of Roman areas and public buildings ended. The zone occupied by the site of Saint Anastasius, before the arrival of Lombards in the town, was included in the Foro, a large, paved square; in the Roman world, it was the center of political, social and economic aggregation. Lost this function, it was used first as a cave to collect building material and later it became the seat of one of the most important religious centers in the city of Asti. In the area in fact a building in wood was erected, intended for Christian worship, and here a first cemetery was set up, with a group of burials probably belonging to the same family. These tombs were dated between the second half of the 7th century and the second half of the 8th century A.D.

The following burials were placed around the first stone church, especially in the eastern zone of the site, near the apse. The graves of a privileged group of people were put close to the church continuously for two centuries about.

Being buried here in fact meant a greater proximity to the most sacred part of the church, but also a remark of the prestige and social importance of the dead in front of the living.

The conversion to Christianity and the urban graves. Lombards were not always a Christian people; at the beginning in fact they were pagan and venerated female divinities connected to fertility and earth. Because of the contact with some other Germanic tribes, they started to accept the cult of military-inspired gods. After the arrival in Italy, following the contact with the Roman civilization, they converted themselves progressively to the Catholicism between the 6th and the 7th century.

The faith in Christian resurrection leaded to the choice to bury the dead, instead of cremating them, because the believer in Christ would be resurrected with his own body. Anyway, the cemetery of Saint Anastasius proves not only the conversion of Lombards, but also a trend that develops during the Middle Ages, with the relocation of cemeteries within the cities. Previously the Roman laws prohibited to put graves within the city walls; the cemeteries were located immediately outside the urban center, along the sides of the roads leading to the urban doors.

The places of the dead were separated rigorously from those of living, also to protect the public hygiene. The adoption of this new custom marks a radical transformation that will have deep effects on the conception of death in the Middle Ages, with an increasing familiarity with it, associated among other things with the cult of martyrs, as in the case of Asti, and their tombs. Moreover, the salubrity of urban agglomerations, for centuries protected by Roman laws, will be lost.


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