An ancient sandstone warrior watches silently over the Parish Church of Santo Stefano in Sorano, a jewel of Romanesque architecture that stands out, unexpected in its austere beauty, among modern buildings.
We are in Filattiera, at the crossroads of valleys and roads, a place furrowed by the course of the Magra and the passage of men, a place of frequentation and worship since the most remote times: there are traces of ancient Ligurians, of a farm of Roman age, of a late-ancient town and street and a stone defensive structure of the 5th-6th century, upon the reins of which a first church was erected. In the early Middle Ages, when Sorano was the center of the upper Val di Magra district called, precisely, fines Surianenses, the first Christian building was replaced by a second church, former Pieve in the first quarter of the 11th century which, although marked by almost a millennium of existence, has come down to us.
On 19 July 1999, during some restoration works, it emerged broken into two parts by the facade in which the Warrior of Sorano had rested for centuries.
According to a use incomprehensible to us, but very usual in a “starving” for building materials Middle Age time, the monolith had been reused at the rise of the Romanesque church as a lintel of a side door, hidden by the changes made to the building in the eighteenth century.
Centuries of oblivion and vicissitudes have not tarnished the archaic expressive force of the superb figure. Prestigious in its 1.78 meter of height, the fierce and enigmatic gaze straight ahead, its mouth shut, shows with authority and pride the belt around its waist, an axe and two javelins tightened between the hands, and a dagger “to antennas “of Celtic influence hanging on the right side: it is armed to the teeth, ready for war but also determined to reveal its role in the society of its time.
He is not afraid of also showing his wounds: a dramatic fracture crosses the back, and the left margin is marked by chipping and reworking.
The careful eye of the scholars has revealed a sort of metamorphosis occurred in the artifact, from a typology of more archaic stele statue to a more “modern” form: emerged from the stone in a first version in the third millennium BC, between the end of the Age of the Copper and that of the Ancient Bronze, the Warrior was re-sculpted in the Iron Age, in the 6th century BC, on the sides of the head (which originally must have been “a calotta”, joined to the body), to make it rounder, more naturalistic . The arms, the belt, the arms and the legs are also the result of reworking.
We do not know its name, perhaps given by the inscription in Etruscan characters no longer decipherable, placed along the left arm, which is also the result of the “restyling” which led to the regeneration of several more ancient stele statues transforming them from symbols of a peaceful people to heroic warriors, probably funeral markings bearing the name of the deceased.
As the scientific name of “Sorano V” suggests, the Warrior of Sorano has not rested in solitude in the silence of the Pieve di Santo Stefano: it is the fifth of the seven stele statues of various dating and typology found in the area, from 1924 to today. The other six, like many specimens, have suffered an equally troubled fate, mutilated – sometimes reduced only to fragments – and buried in the following ages. It is no coincidence that one of these, Sorano I, was found without a head over two meters deep, under the church floor, with the front facing the bottom; the Warrior lay above the door with the side carved upwards, so that he could not be seen by anyone entering. The Sorano VII was instead reused as a slab of a Ligurian burial in the II-I century BC, perhaps with the intentional evocation of the ancestors.
The Warrior was probably visible until the early Middle Ages, when with other specimens it was reused for the first time, as shown by the notches on the left, as part of some structure, eventually becoming construction material in the Romanesque construction site.
Glorious stone sentinels, ritually arranged to garrison and signal access to the Lunigiana territory, for centuries the stele statues have been hidden, relegated to the condition of secret guardians of a baggage of beliefs and traditions still largely mysterious. A mystery that, now that they have come to light, increases their appeal to our eyes.