Medieval Mass was in Latin; carved bas reliefs helped explain the Biblical lessons to the illiterate masses
Artistic expression in Dark Ages and early medieval Italy was largely church-related. Mass was recited in Latin, so to try and help explain the most important lessons to the illiterate masses, Biblical bas reliefs around the churches' main doors, and wall paintings and altarpieces inside, told key tales to inspire faith in God and fear of sin (Last Judgements were favorites).
Romanesque sculpture was somewhat more fluid than Byzantine, but still far from naturalistic, usually idiosyncratic and often wonderfully child-like in its narrative simplicity, frequently freely mixing Biblical scenes with the myths and motifs from local pagan traditions that were being slowly incorporated into early medieval Christianity.
These reliefs were wrapped around column capitals and fitted into the tympanum (the arched spaces above doorways; the complete door, tympanum, arch, and supporting pillars assemblage is the portal).
Still, God, Jesus, and Old Testament morality tales held little interest for the masses. What the bulk of peasant worshippers could appreciate was the growing bevy of specialized saints who could help with plentiful crops, a fruitful marriage, lost sheep, or ailing health.
Chapels were centered on fancy silver and gold reliquaries displaying bits of popular saints to which worshippers could pray.
Saintly statues also began creeping onto facades, though that would become more of a Gothic convention.
Otherwise, decoration was spare, and what little Romanesque art existed was seen as crude by most later periods and was often destroyed, replaced, or covered over the centuries as tastes changed and cathedrals were remodeled over the centuries.
It survives mostly in scraps, innumerable column capitals and tympanums or carvings set above church doors all across Italy.
Artists & examples of Romanesque art in Italy
* Verona's San Zeno Maggiore. The 48 relief panels of the bronze doors, one of the most important pieces of Romanesque sculpture in Italy, were cast between the 9th to the 11th centuries and are flanked by strips of 12th century stone reliefs.
* Parma's Baptistery. The exterior sports a series of Romanesque allegorical friezes by Benedetto Antelami, who also carved the state inside, while anonymous 13th century Romanesque frescoists painted the walls.
* Aosta's Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Orso. On the edge of town, this Romanesque church preserves part of an 11th century fresco cycle and 40 remarkably 12th century carved column capitals in the cloisters.