A cross-cutting itinerary for believers and history enthusiasts to discover the places of worship of Spilimbergo.
Signs of refined and popular spirituality
The sacred scent of antiquity that oozes profound humanity, experience, hope for the future, and awareness of a united people on their path to God, to obtain his blessing, protection, meaning of life. All this is testified by the threshold stone of our Cathedral, on which the sumptuous portal stands overlooking the square. A relic for everyone to see worn out by the infinite number of footsteps that have left their anonymous yet lively footprint. An increasingly deeper and shinier furrow in that stone that bears witness to the simple, humble, yet sincere faith that silently anticipates the beauty and preciousness of the frescoes, decorations, furnishings, and sculptures by the best artists that decorate the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore. The itinerary starts right here, after dipping your fingers into the holy water contained in a magnificent 16th-century vessel. Purifying water blessed on Easter night with the sign of the cross. This itinerary will make you discover other interesting places and symbols of worship across the territory. But before we head out, enjoy the polychrome light that filters through the façade’s seven rose windows, which hint at the mysterious and apocalyptic lamb with seven eyes that redeems us. You can also admire the fresco of the “hanged man” hidden in the left apse, which bears witness to the tales of the medieval jubilee pilgrimages that traced the itineraries to Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem, and Rome. That 14th-century brushstroke inspired the other fresco that dominates the inner façade. The gaze starts to seize and discover these traces of spirituality that are sometimes evident, while other times they are hidden between walls. Traces that testify to the religiousness of the locals, their loyalty to God and his Mother, as well as to the angels and all the saints that have left their mark on the people of Spilimbergo. Memories that prove the belonging to a community that is proud of its creed and identity. A community that has managed to mould the urbanisation of the city centre, whether inadvertently or according to some precise plan, and bless all the artisanal businesses that have been a distinctive feature of the town for over seven centuries.
After leaving the majestic Cathedral, the town’s most precious pearl, the most impressive throughout the Diocese, and glancing at the Castle from Piazza Santa Maria, the gaze runs over the beautiful palazzos, loggias, and the harmonious square, until it stops on the little Church of Saint Cecilia, which is said to have existed even before the Cathedral. The little door overlooking the moat, with the two caryatids in the intrados bears witness to its millenarian history. This is where the householders gathered ‘ad sonum campanae’ to deal with the town’s affairs.
But now, we’ll leave the square and head to the gate tower, to the first row of city walls that delimit the oldest part of the town. We come to a traditional wine cellar, where customers pass the time of day chatting with a glass of good wine in hand. Behind them, you can notice an outdoor fresco on the wall by Spilimbergo resident Gasparo Narvesa depicting the Crucifixion, one of the many works, in addition to his paintings on canvas, that feature his very distinctive brushstroke. Now, we’ll move along the city walls down to the Tagliamento, following the traces of the old moat at the foot of the walls.
A small church with a little steeple towards the east reminds of the time when travellers who arrived to the town could stop and rest here whispering a prayer to thank God for the safe journey. This is the Ancona Church dedicated to a mysterious Saint Sabida, protector of rivers and those who forded it. Its little loggia is an invitation to rest for a little bit and catch your breath, maybe saying the Hail Mary prayer in front of the miraculous fresco of the Virgin Mary. Lean on the wall and let your gaze wander to the green lawn created in honour of the victims of the First World War. Then, slowly, look up to the majestic walls of the ancient Castle. Now, take a closer look at the wall you’ve been leaning on, between the white columns, which are a relic of a more ancient shrine dedicated to Saint Jerome. Look carefully, and you’ll notice a nine men’s morris grid engraved there. Long ago kids would play there on hot summer days, after a swim in the cool waters of the Tagliamento. After this short break, we’ll move up to town again along the ramp in Via Ripida on the right (which has just been closed to traffic), to the other Castle, which was once the residence of the Counts of Spilimbergo di Sopra and now houses the town hall. You can enter from the northern gate. Don’t let the beautiful frescoes of the Renaissance decorations and the majestic walls that rise from the cobbled courtyard distract you from that hint of a wall, those stones lined up on the green lawn. Right there, as soon as you enter, to your right, you can see the remains of an ancient rectangular nave. That is what remains of the little Church of Saint Rocco, which the locals called “San Rocchetto” because it was the private church of the Consorti Lords, who ruled the town and its people.
It’s only through stories handed down through generations and these few stones that we know about it. But let’s continue westward, until we intersect Viale Barbacane. Domus parva pax magna is the writing you can read on the door jamb of a tiny house. And if you look closely, you’ll notice a modern image of the Virgin Mary that blesses the passers-by. And here we are in Viale Barbacane, one of Spilimbergo’s pearls, which is especially beautiful during the summer. Here, you can enjoy the shade of the lime trees that line it and their sweet and intense fragrance, especially in the evening, which permeates through the streets right into the centre. These trees have replaced the ancient mulberry trees that a priest had once planted here so that the people could use their leaves to feed the silkworms bred in kitchens and corridors, as the only source of summer income for the town’s many poor families. Midway down the avenue, where the retirement home once was, inside a little cave among beautifully kept flowers, is a small statue of the Virgin Mary. Before we continue, come closer from the side of the courtyard. You’ll see another Virgin Mary at the back with Saint Bernadette. If you like, you can open the gate and leave a flower and let the silence offered before another Hail Mary envelop you. Enjoy the walk with no rush. See that grey villa with the shutters always closed? Try to imagine a big monastery with the balconies always wide open, from where you could hear Gregorian chants and the psalmody of the Benedictine nuns, instead.
Now we’re in the Square at the end of the Viale. Mind the crossroads and the cars and bicycles, and stop for a few moments in front of the church on the right. The square is home to the Church of Saint Rocco, built outside the city walls as an offering against the plague in the 16th century. This is where Saint Rocco and Our Lady of Health – so dear to the ancient Venetian tradition of the Serenissima – are honoured on 16th August and 21st November, respectively. Those are the days on which Spilimbergo celebrates Saint Rocco, protector against the plague and patron saint of pilgrims, and the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you happen to be here on one of those two days, you’ll have the opportunity to hear the bells being rung manually by talented bell ringers, the Scampanotadôrs, to a typical characteristic Spilimbergo tune. On those two days, throngs of people flock to the church for the Solemn Mass. But Saint Rocco’s day in August is also the day of the Macia historical re-enactment in the afternoon, with a procession of the historical Confraternities.
Back to the heart of the town, passing through the Western Tower and enjoying the gorgeous shop windows under the Renaissance porticoes, it’s time for another stop. We’ll take a look inside the 14th-century church of the ancient hospice of Saint John of the Flagellants. The church stands where once an artificial canal flowed. A portico on the side facilitated the processions of the ancient Confraternity of the Flagellants from the church to the Cathedral during the Holy Week to close the Forty Hours Devotion. The large 14th-century fresco behind the alter depicts a dramatic Crucifixion with Nordic features. Further ahead is the Friars’ Church, which today houses a 15th-century wooden choir, which is the most impressive work of woodworking art across the entire region. This is a masterpiece of Marco Cozzi, who had just carved the wooden stalls of the choir of the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.
Are you feeling a bit tired? You should know that you’ve only walked for just over a kilometre. And there’s more to see. Let’s continue south, along Via delle Scuole and Via Udine, under the honeyberry trees, until we get to the Hermitage of Saint John. This is a ten minute walk (the last one) along the escarpment of the Tagliamento river. From here, you can admire the riverbed. In that point, the distance between the two banks is three kilometres! Walk down to the Dignano bridge, we’ll come across a small and cosy lodge for pilgrims and wayfarers: San Zuan Remit. A centuries-old hermitage where river forders could rest, but also a hospice for the ill and a cemetery for plague victims. The site was restored several times before the church and the pronaos were finally demolished. However, the frescoed apse is still a significant relic. You can see the theory of the twelve apostles and four evangelists in the tetramorph, the beheading of John the Baptist, and the extraordinary Dance of the Seven Veils. This polychromy, although characterised by a popular drawing and brushstroke, as well as basic crosshatching, shows a top-class message of faith and religious culture in a simple and naive way.
We cross the hamlet to get to Borgo Navarons. Did you know that you’re walking down the old route of the rogation processions that winded from the Cathedral down to here to invoke good harvest and protection from the plague, hunger, and war? We have travelled through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and now we have entered the modern, or rather, postmodern era. Here, you can admire a church that is mentioned in many art books as one of the first built after the Second Vatican Council in compliance with the canons of the liturgical reform, i.e. the main altar in the centre and the benches in a semi-circle almost forming an embrace. This is the church of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose construction was financed by spontaneous donations of the local population and the periodic collection of paper, glass, and iron. All these signs and symbols of Christianity confirm the lively religious culture of the locals, who this year have celebrated the 600th anniversary of their Parish Church.
Itinerary suggested and written in Italian by Mario Concina
The Romea strata: what’s it about
First of all, it’s an opportunity for an approach to medieval spirituality and its yearning for the absolute through a pilgrimage following the itineraries related to the three peregrinationes majores: Rome (to the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul), Santiago de Compostela (to the tomb of the apostle James), and Jerusalem (to the Holy Land of the Risen Christ).
An itinerary of faith and culture along the route of the pilgrims that set off from Central and Eastern Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary) to Italy. The Romea Strata intersects and intertwines with other itineraries of faith and art, thereby providing an additional opportunity to discover areas off the beaten track.
Why is it called this way? The name not only refers to Rome, the most important destination of pilgrimages, but also extends the childship of the Romea Route ̫– the main route travelled by medieval pilgrims from Aquileia, Venice, and Western Alps to the Tomb of Saint Peter – ideally to all the other routes in North-Eastern Italy.
The goals of the project
Rediscovering faith, spirituality, and ancient pilgrimage routes that passed through Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, and Tuscany. Learning about the ancient Routes of Faith: spiritual nourishment and the places where humans and creation meet. Promoting the culture of gratuitousness, giving, and hospitality through the pilgrimage, generating a fruitful contamination between different people and cultures. Offering millions of pilgrims, who travel to Santiago de Compostela, Rome, and Jerusalem every year, a vast network of pilgrimage routes in settings of true interest.
The stages of the Romea Strata
The route involves five Italian regions for a total of 1302 kilometres. There are two stages in Friuli Venezia Giulia:
- the Romea Allemagna: from Tarvisio to Concordia Sagittaria, following the course of the Tagliamento.
Stage 7 Pinzano al Tagliamento – San Martino al Tagliamento involving the territory of Spilimbergo and its main monuments, such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Ancona Church, the Hermitage of Saint John, the Regina Pacis oratory of Gradisca, where the Salus Infirmorum et Mater Viatorum is venerated for the protection of the ancient boat passage in the Tagliamento.
Those who want to learn more about Spilimbergo following the “Pilgrim’s Logo” can discover the Tagliamento and Magredi Parks, renowned for their wines, fruit, and asparagus, not to mention the historical, artistic, and archaeological heritage of the territory.
- the Romea Aquileiense: from Miren (Slovenia) to Concordia Sagittaria, Cathedral of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr.
For more information:
Municipality of Spilimbergo, Tourist Office, +39 0427 2274
Parish Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spilimbergo, +39 0427 2059
Pilgrimage Office of the Diocese of Vicenza, +39 0444 327146