A friend among friends: Don Vincenzo at San Pietro

4. Together uphill

San Pietro al Monte experienced a gradual decline in importance, transitioning from being a renowned place of pilgrimage to a simple mountain church. As a result, at the beginning of the 20th century, the basilica was in a very bad state, especially in the area that had lost its original function: the large semicircular ambulatory, located in front of the eastern apse at the entrance to the building. The semicircular ambulatory had mostly collapsed, with the exception of the small rectangular atrium connected to the staircase. The first major structural work at San Pietro was the restoration of the ambulatory according to its original features, which could be inferred from the traces of the foundations and the few surviving Romanesque structures. The Beato Angelico School, represented by its founder, Don Giuseppe Polvara, undertook this project in the first half of the 20th century. This extensive intervention succeeded in restoring one of the most remarkable architectural features of the Basilica. However, as significant as this was, it was only one of many necessary interventions, including the restoration of the staircase leading to the restored ambulatory.

The restoration of the staircase was undertaken in the summer of 1975 under the guidance of Don Vincenzo Gatti, the founder of the association Amici di San Pietro al Monte, which was founded around the same time. Although the monumental staircase had never been destroyed, its state of preservation was very precarious, both in terms of the steps and the structural stability. These three months of work are documented in photographs and especially in Don Vincenzo’s diary.

The involvement of the local community in this endeavor was extraordinarily vast: people of all ages frequently came to San Pietro to help restore the staircase. Improvised laborers, industry professionals, and many young people spent weeks marking the position of the stone steps, dismantling them with a special engine hoist, which was lent for free by a local company for the duration of the project. They then repositioned the steps after completing the structural consolidation of the staircase with reinforced concrete supports. Numerous companies also donated the necessary raw materials. Mortar, cement, stones, metal, and wood were all provided free of charge and transported up the mountain from Civate by volunteers and by a military helicopter that made several trips from Orio al Serio.

Within a few months, the entire staircase had been restored to its present state. During these days of hard work, two burials were discovered, as well as the ancient brick pavement of the small quadrangular room at the junction of the end of the staircase and the actual entrance to the ambulatory. Finally, to commemorate the effort, Don Vincenzo decided to embed a bottle containing the names of those who took part in this endeavor into the wall.

This first major structural intervention marked the beginning of the second rebirth of San Pietro al Monte, thanks to the will and dedication of Don Vincenzo Gatti, whose work continues to be honored and carried on to this day.