Civate situated on the northern banks of the Lake of Annone, has several places of considerable historical and artistic interest within its territory.
A continuous settlement flourished here because of the strategic position in which the town grew giving it control over the road leading to Bergamo and the Switzerland. In fact, evidence on the territory dates back to prehistorical times, through the Middle Ages and right up to present times.
The most prosperous period for the town of Civate was the time when a community of Benedictine monks lived there, presence retraceable as from the middle of the ninth century.
Two monasteries are clearly visible in the territory, one is S. Calocero, down in the valley and the other is S. Pietro sets on a ridge up Monte Cornizzolo.
S.Pietro al Monte
This is a place of worship of considerable artistic interest at European level.
The church of S. Pietro al Monte in Civate together with the chapel of St.Benedict's and a few rooms is all that remains of an ancient Benedictine monastic complex.
It is situated in an isolated position at an altitude of about 650 meters and it can be reached by walking for about an hour along a path through the woods.
The origins of the monastery are still not clear as the relationship with the monastic complex of S. Calocero, situated in the town and perhaps a second centre for the same monastic community and which name was given when the body of the martyr St.Calocero was moved there, in 9th century.
According to a legend, the church and the monastery of S. Pietro al Monte were founded by Desiderio, king of the Longobards as a sign of gratitude to God for having given his son Adalgiso back his sight, after being suddenly struck by blindness.
The monastery in the Carolingian period was a centre of a certain importance in the renewal of cultural, monastic and clerical life and a meeting place for monks and pilgrims.
Records show that important persons lived in this monastery, among which Archbishop Arnolfo III(1097), elected according to the wishes of the Emperor Henry VI, retreated voluntarily to the monastery, following his admonition by the Pope. Arnolfo showed his submission and agreement with the bishop of Rome, also symbolically, orientating this temporary cathedral as the one in Rome. Besides, the ciborium is similar to the one in the church of S.Ambrogio in the Roman fashion.
In 1162 the abbot of S. Pietro and his monks took sides with Barbarossa against the bishop of Milan, and probably a consequence of this fact , the monastic dwellings were destroyed while the religious building were saved.
Towards the end of the 15th century, also in the lower monastery the monks became fewer and all the property passed as a benefice to a member of the secular clergy.
The Cisalpine directory (28th June 1798) dispersed all the property of the monastery selling it to private buyers.
Only in 1927 monsignor Polvara, architect and painter, began to concern himself with the precious monument which was abandoned and almost completely in ruins. His religious community, the Beato Angelico, began the restoration work.
This with the help of many volunteers, the "Amici di San Pietro" is still going on.
The construction was built with hewn stones and has a single nave basilica plan, defined by two apses, one to the west and the other to east.
The exterior of the building, in Romanesque aspect, is decorated with hanging arches and pilaster strips at set distances according to the typical style of the Como master builders.
The pilgrim, having reached the top of the staircase is welcomed by Christ, depicted over the door, standing with his arms open in the act of founding the church, handing over the keys to St.Peter and the book of his word to St.Paul.
All the decoration in the basilica of S. Pietro al Monte, consisting of frescoes and stuccoes, is a catechetical teaching of the mystery of salvation for the pilgrim.
It was instead made in different periods of time and by different artists, most likely by the Benedictine monks themselves.
Going through the door the visitors are met by popes St. Gregorius and St. Marcellus, in frescoes on the two side walls of the endonarthex (internal vestibule for catechumens). Above the door, in the internal lunette, there is Abraham with three people in his lap, symbolizing many he is the father of.
The first sail vault has a representation of the Holy City, the city where all those that have been baptized will be received. In the middle of this, Jesus sits on a globe with a lamb at his feet. The stream springing from here is the water everyone is called to drink to quench their thirst.
The sail of the second vault has the four personifications of the rivers in the Garden of Eden. In the centre of the vault is painted Christ's monogram.
The two side banisters have a griffin and a chimera, symbols of the Evil.
The two side chapels, from the right to the left, are respectively dedicated to saints and angels, the apse conch has a fresco of the Pantocrator.
The symbols of the four evangelists are depicted in the vaults of the right chapel while the left chapel shows the seven Angels of the Apocalypse.
A stucco banister protects the stairs going down to the crypt towards the altar. The first painting shows a lion and a winged griffin, the symbols of man and spirit, feeding themselves from a fruitless plant; the second panel shows two lions stretching themselves towards some grapes; the third panel shows the lion transformed in winged creatures after eating fish which made them become spiritualized.
Finally, the stucco ciborium is of considerable artistic interest. The four cuspidate faces have the theme of the Mystery of the Faith, showing the order the Death, the Resurrection of Christ, waiting for his final coming.
The four external corners show the symbols of the four Evangelists, with the corresponding four Angels in the inner pinnacles, holding the winds of the earth. The centre of the dome has a painting of the Lamb of God surrounded by eighteen figures.
Turning towards the exit, it is possible to see the great fresco in which the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse can be "read", Whoever planned the decorative project, reminds the faithful of the daily reality: the Evil, identified by the dragon, that is always ready to deceive but the Lord sends his help (an array of Angels led by the archangel Michael) and thanks to the Blood of the Lamb the Evil will be defeated.
The crypt is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Six columns divide the chamber into three small naves covered by cross vaults.
The facing wall still shows: the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the temple, The Crucifixion, the Dormition of the virgin, laying at the centre of the scene and surrounded by the apostles and Jesus Christ with his Angels.
Beside the small windows are frescoes of the careful virgins holding a lighted lamp in their left hand and the oil ampulla.
Oratory of S. Benedetto
The oratory of S. Benedetto rises at the feet of the staircase leading to the door of the Basilica. The building has a square plan with three semicircular apses and a rectangular entry chamber. This chamber was most probably used as a place of prayer and meditation and this theory is corroborated by the decorative theme on the masonry altar frescoed on three sides. The front face has the representation of the Deesis, Jesus at the centre, Mary and St.John the Baptist in the act of praying and pointing at Jesus Christ with their hands. St.Andrew, the Apostle, is depicted on the northern side and St. benedict on the southern side.
Externally, the building has the typical small arch decoration, which in the eastern and northern apses, is surmounted by a saw tooth frieze.
The association"Amici di San Pietro"with great dedication collaborates in the conservation of the monumental complex and in welcoming visitors every Saturday and Sunday.