Asti: San Secondo

San Secondo.

We do not really know whether Saint Secundus can be considered historical. According to tradition he was a Roman soldier who was martyred in the year 119, during the reign of the emperor Hadrianus, because of his Christian faith. Later a church dedicated to him arose on the spot where he was buried. Secundus moreover became the patron saint of Asti. The church of San Secondo was the first building we visited during our trip to the town in the summer of 2023. There was a purely pragmatic reason for visiting this church first: the San Secondo is just 150 metres away from the tourist office of Asti.


It is not known with certainty when the first church was built at this location, but it must have been in the ninth century at the latest. The church is mentioned for the first time in a document dating from 880. This church stood outside the city walls and was therefore vulnerable to attacks by malevolent figures. At an unspecified moment the remains of Saint Secundus were therefore moved to the cathedral of Asti, which was located within the walls. They were probably not returned to the San Secondo until the episcopate of Bruningo (937-964).

Piazza San Secondo.

The San Secondo was a collegiate church (collegiata), administered by its own canons and largely independent from the bishop of Asti. In the second half of the thirteenth century the canons decided to build a new church. The only element of the old church that remains is the low Romanesque bell-tower, visible on the left side, which was built in the tenth century and is attributed to the aforementioned bishop Bruningo. The crypt of the church is probably even older. Here one can find a little chest containing the relics of Saint Secundus.

Relief and frescoes above the main entrance.

Interior of the church.

Because of a lack of financial resources the construction of the new San Secondo did not start until the end of the thirteenth century. In the middle of the fourteenth century the new church was completed. From 1440 onwards an extra bay was added to the front of the building, and in 1462 the façade of the church was completed. This hut-shaped façade is rather plain and simple. We see a lot of brick and above the rose window a niche containing a statue of Saint Secundus. The current statue is a copy; the original dates from the end of the fourteenth century. During my visit the patron saint of Asti had a dove on his head, which is quite appropriate, as the dove symbolises the Holy Spirit. Above the central entrance we see faded frescoes of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as a mediocre relief of Christ in his tomb (image above). The building next to the church is, by the way, the Asti town hall. It dates from the Middle Ages, but was remodelled at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the architect Benedetto Alfieri (1699-1767).


The church has a Gothic interior, which is dominated by brick, just like the façade. Even the columns are made of brick, but fortunately the beautifully sculpted capitals are not. All in all the interior is rather sober. Among the most interesting artworks is a large panel painting in the left aisle that was made at the start of the sixteenth century by the local painter Gandolfino da Roreto. On the right side of the church I found a fresco from the beginning of the fifteenth century, made by an unknown painter. It represents the Holy Trinity, with Christ on the cross, God the Father behind him and the dove of the Holy Spirit above the head of Christ. The Trinity is flanked by four saints. They are possibly Saints Nicholas (note the oranges in his hand), Bernardus of Clairvaux, Blaise of Sebaste (with an iron comb in his hand) and Franciscus of Assisi. The scene above the Trinity is an Annunciation.

Holy Trinity.

The most interesting fact about the San Secondo is its strong association with the annual horse race of Asti, the Palio. This Palio is older than that of Siena, which is of course much more famous. According to tradition a horse race was held in Asti as early as the year 1000. This is certainly not impossible, although the Palio is mentioned in a source for the first time in 1275. We had parked our car in the large Piazza Campo del Palio and readily assumed that this was the square where the Palio was held every year. We quickly learned that this was indeed the case in the past, but since 1988 the races are held just down the road in the Piazza Vittorio Alfieri. The races originally took place on the feast day of Saint Secundus (which is 30 March), but nowadays they are held in September. The close ties between the races and the church of Secundus (who is often depicted on horseback) are still intact though. In the chapels on the right side of the church we find banners from previous Palii, ranging from ancient ones to ones recently made.

Banners of the Palio di Asti.


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  1. Pingback:A walk in Asti – – Corvinus –

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