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The villages of Tremezzina



The building is clearly composed of three distinct parts constructed in different times. Its most ancient part dates back to the Romans. It is believed that on this spot there were a roman military watch-tower with annex facing south, and a small house for the soldiers, next to it, facing north. The finding of some items and coins of that period, now preserved at the Archaeological Museum of Como, gives credit to this thesis. The two buildings were later joined together to form the archaic nucleus of the church, as it probably appeared to the Bishop of Como when he visited Griante in 1593. It is very likely that after the rescuing of the wooden statue of the Madonna (1628 - 1630), the wall at the back of the altar in the central aisle of the church was pulled down to create a recess into which the simulacra was placed. The portico at the entrance was added in the following century and in 1805 the church was enlarged to consent admittance to the increasing number of devotes. Since then, the building underwent several restorations, but the architectural structure was left unchanged.

It is said that between 1628 and 1630, when the great plague and famine took hold of this area, one day a shepherd girl went up to San Martino height to pasture her few sheep. She was hungry, too, so she started looking for some herbs to feed herself. Meanwhile, one of her sheep went down a narrow, dangerous path, so she went to rescue it. She followed her sheep into a hidden cave where she found the statue of the Virgin Mary. Excited by the discovery, she ran down to Griante to spread the news. In no time the inhabitants of the village gathered together and went up the height to see the statue of which no one had ever heard of. They decided to take it down to the Parish church to allow those who were too old to climb up the height to see and worship the simulacra, too. So they did, but overnight the statue miraculously went back to San Martino height, but this time not inside the cave where it was found. The people of Griante took it as the Blessed Virgin's desire to have a church built on that very spot, which they did. The church was then built and the Simulacra of the Blessed Virgin was placed into a recess above the altar. Since then, the statue has been worshipped as the miraculous Madonna delle Grazie di San Martino. This is what people believe, notwithstanding some written documents testifying a different and more ancient origins of the shrine.
How to get to the Shrine: from the villages of Tremezzina: by bus or boat to Cadenabbia then on foot following road direction boards


In 1550 the fortunate finding of a marble statue of the Blessed Virgin (probably work of a master from Campione of the 14thcentury) induced the inhabitants of Ossuccio to build a small chapel to preserve the effigy on the spot where it was rescued. In 1537, because of the increasing devotion to the believed miraculous Madonna, it was necessary to build a proper church. During the following century, under the influence of the spreading fashion of building Sacred Mounts in the Insubria region ( Piedmont, Lombardy and southern Italian Switzerland), it was planned a way to the Shrine along which were set 14 chapels. The works started in 1635. Soon after they were interrupted to be resumed between 1663 and 1668 and finished about 1720. In the meantime, the shrine was enlarged while the bell tower was added in 1719. The 14 chapels along the way preserve several statues representing, like on a stage, the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (life of Jesus Christ). The 15th and last chapel is the church itself. Many of the statues are by Agostino Silva, while the frescoes are by Francesco Torriani, Carlo Gaffuri and Gian Paolo Recchi. It is difficult to attribute the plan of the whole Sacred Mount for it could be work of Agostino Silva or, more likely, of the hermit Swiss Friar Timoteo Snider, who lived by the shrine for a long time. The paved path to the Shrine starts a little above the main road Via Regina at Ossuccio or by the Abbey of Acquafredda at Lenno.

It is said that one day deaf-mute shepherd girl, as she was pasturing her sheep on the heights above Ossuccio, found a marble effigy of the Blessed Virgin. It is not said why she entered into a narrow cave, which entrance was sheltered by some thick bushes, where she found the statue. She took the effigy with her and ran down to the village to show it to her parents. As she reached home, she was healed from her infirmity and she was able to tell how and where she found the effigy. Excited by the prodigious healing, the inhabitant of Ossuccio decided to put the statue into the Parish Church to allow everybody to worship the miraculous effigy. It is said that overnight, the statue moved back to the cave where it was found. Taking it for a clear desire of the Blessed Virgin to stay on that spot, the people of Ossuccio decided to build there a chapel to protect the miraculous effigy. A hundred years later they built the shrine. Of course, this is a legend, but some historians affirms that the marble statue is a fragment of a precious religious work that was taken from Isola Comacina when it was destroyed in 1169. If so, the effigy is far older then what it is believed. A local Historian, Antonio Balbiano, affirms that the statue dates back to the Roman era, which could be true. As a matter of facts, at the time when Pliny the Young had one of his Villas, the Comoedia, on the watershed of the Venus Bay in Lenno, on the height above Ossuccio there was a temple dedicated to Ceres, the roman Goddess of fertility. To give shelter to the increasing number of people, who came to warship the Goddess, Pliny ordered to Mustio, a great architect from Como, to enlarge it. Unfortunately, nothing of that temple was left. Describing the rescuing of the statue, Antonio Balbiano writes. "…Up in the mountain, rummaging where the inhabitants of Ossuccio and Spurano are used to spend Summer, it seems that they were the ones who found a mutilated stone effigy, and believing it was the Blessed Virgin, they added a head to the other body representing a child, as nowadays it is possible to see. They started to worship the effigy, at their pleasure, during the season when they were up on the mountain, in a little church they built up there".

Maybe it is all fantasy, but even today, on the 8th of September, a great celebration dedicated to the Blessed Virgin is held at the Shrine, just like when, at the Idi of September, on the mountain above Ossuccio there was a temple dedicate to the roman Goddess Ceres.

How to reach Lenno or Ossuccio from the villages of Tremezzina: by car or bus.


Texts by Bina Battistella Fraquelli
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