A Marian Pilgrimage in the Name of the Saint of Grace

Rus Cassiciacum – Cassago Brianza


« ...Tuoi siamo, lo attestano le tue esortazioni e poi le tue consolazioni: fedele alle promesse, rendi a Verecondo, in cambio della sua campagna a Cassiciaco, ove riposammo in te dalla bufera del mondo, l'amenità in eterno verdeggiante del tuo paradiso, poiché gli hai rimesso i suoi peccati sulla terra, sulla montagna pingue, la tua montagna, la montagna ubertosa ...» (IX Libro delle Confessioni - Sant'Agostino).

Between the summer of 386 A.D. and the spring of 387 A.D., St.Augustine was hosted by his friend Verecondo in his country house. In a passage of chapter IX of Confessions St.Augustine recalled the beauty of the place. During his trip to Brianza he was followed by his mother Monica, his son Adeodato, his brother Navigio, his friend Alipio, his cousins Rustico and Lastidiano, his disciples Licenzio and Trigezio and a stenographer.

In the countryside of Cassiciaco, Augustine wrote his Dialogues in which he traced the events and the talks of those days in Verecondo’s villa.
Nowadays Cassago Brianza (the formerly Rus Cassiciacum of St.Augustine) is one of many pleasant villages in Brianza. Once inhabited by Gallic populations, the village was subsequently conquered by Romans, and later became a Lombardic possession in medieval times. Here, a community of monks founded the Church of St. Bridget of Ireland. In the Middle Ages, its territory (including the inhabited areas) belonged to the monastries of Civate, Pontida, Cremella and the Church of St. John in Monza. In the 1500’s the noble family Pirovano occupied the Medieval castrum and its castle while during the 1700’s the Modrones and the dukes Visconti rose to the power.

Although Cassago’s antiquities (in particular Gallic and Roman antiquities) were already known in the late 1500’s, it was only in the 20th century, when archaeologists began to excavate, that its three-thousand- year-old history came to light. The oldest artifacts date back to the Neolithic period and show the presence of settlements of men able to work the flint. From the 2nd century B.C, the Roman Empire established its rule over the regions across the Po river and took over hilly and mountain areas north of Milan; as a result the Gallic-Celtic settlement of Cassago was swallowed inside the orbit of Roman influence. The Crotto’s tomb and Pieguzza’s ceramics do confirm its republican and imperial past. Both Crotto’s and San Marco’s tombs date back to the III-II century B.C., while a roman settlement is known to have been present from the I century to the V-VI century, until the Lombardic invasion. The discovery of two Roman tanks (in the contrada Pieguzza) reveal the existence of a countryside villa, to whom water was supplied through ceramic pipes. Presumably the villa stood in Cassago, where many headstones, inscriptions and tombs of undoubted Roman origin have been found during excavations. All the findings (exquisite ceramics, artifacts, inscriptions and tombs) are proof of a permanent patrician dwelling house.
The rise of Lombard populations probably led this Roman settlement to total destruction, except for some related findings, considering that already in the 1600’s the Cardinal Federigo Borromeo was saying that in Cassago were stored Roman artifacts. Many poets and writers such as Francesco Petrarca, Giuseppe Rigamonti, Alessandro Manzoni and Pasquale Cattaneo wrote about Cassago and its close relationship with St. Augustine. In the chronicles of Cassago’s parish, it is said that the village emerged unscathed from the plague of 1630 and it was attributed to the intercession of St.Augustine. For this reason in 1631 he was declared Patron of the village and since then he is celebrated each year.

The text of the book reads as follow: "Et cum moris christiani sit memoriam habere beneficiorum acceptorum, illaque attribuere alicui Sancto protectori, ideo Communitas ista Casagi non immemor tantae gratiae ultra predictos, ut supra Patronos, adjungit sibi et supplicat auxilium beatissimi Augustini Pontificis Hipon. et Doctoris Sanctae Ecclesiae eximii; eoque magis cum memoriae proditum sit ipsum Sanctum patrios lares habitasse."

In the 1700’s a chapel was built in the Church of Cassago to honor the Saint. Moreover a special mention should be made for the water of St.Augustine’s fountain, which has become the focus of popular devotion since the 1800’s.


The Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti – the Duomo of Milan


The Duomo of Milan is the most famous symbol of the city. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente, it is found in the very heart of Milan. It is the forth largest Christian church in Europe after St.Peter’s in the city of Vatican, St.Paul’s in London and Seville’s cathedral.

Under the Duomo it is possible to visit the remains of the parish of Santa Tecla and the baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti, where St. Augustine was baptised by Ambrose on the eve before Easter 387.

In 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo promoted the construction of a newer and larger cathedral. In 1387 the noble Gian Galeazzo Visconti proposed a more ambitious project, which followed the latest trends in European architecture. Galeazzo gave the Fabbrica del Duomo exclusive use of the marble from the Candoglia quarry: every block was stamped by the abbreviation AUF (ad usum fabricae) and exempted from taxes (hence, the Italian slang “to eat a ufo”). The Fabbrica proceeded in an atmosphere of constant tensions and revisions, but in spite of all it gave rise to a work of monumental importance on both the Italian and the European architectural scene. However, the construction stalled continuously over the centuries in a constant succession of architects. In 1567 the archibishop Carlo Borromeo ordered a quick resumption of work, by appointing Pellegrino Tibaldi as chief of the Fabbrica. He redesigned the presbytery, that was subsequently consecrated in 1577, even though the church wasn’t finished yet. As for the front of the building, in 1580 he designed a two-story basement standing on huge Corinthian columns and a niche in the central nave surrounded by obelisks. After the death of Carlo Borromeo in 1584, Pellegrini left the city and his project was never carried out. The Fabbrica was taken over by Pellegrini’s rival, Martino Bassi, who sent Pope Gregorio XIV, a new project of the façade. Between 1765 and 1769 the architect Francesco Croce completed the lantern and the major spire, where five years after the golden Madonnina, one of the main symbols o f the city, was erected.

At last, in 1805 Napoleone, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished by Giuseppe Zanoia. The project was finally finished by Carlo Amati in 1813.

During the Second World War the golden Madonnina was covered with cloths to prevent the golden glitter from becoming a reference point for enemy planes attacks, while glasses were replaced with fabric rolls. Even today, the maintenance of the cathedral is carried out by the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, whose continuous operations of preservation have given birth to a famous expression “Longh comè la fabbrica del Domm” (“As lasting as Duomo’s fabbrica” in english).


The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

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As one of the oldest churches in Milan, the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is not only an emblematic architectural example of the Early Christian-Medieval period, but it also represents a cornerstone in both Milan’s history and Ambrosian Church.

The Basilica was begun by Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386. It was built over an existing cemetery of Christian martyrs, hence the name Basilica Martyrium. Ambrose wanted to bury inside the remains of the Saints Vittore, Nabore, Vitale, Felice, Valeria, Gervasio and Protasio, who died because of Roman persecutions. Ambrose himself was buried next to them, and the church became known as Sant’Ambrogio.

In the IX century the church was renovated on the bishop Angilberto’s request (824-860), who commanded the building of a new apse and introduced by a barrel vault under which liturgical offices could be celebrated. In the same period the top of the apse was decorated with a huge mosaic which still exists: depicting the Christ Pantokrator with martyrs Gervasio and Protasio, the archangels Michele and Gabriele, and at the sides, scenes from the Life of St. Ambrose.
The Basilica took its final appearance between 1088 and 1099, when bishop Anselmo ordered its rebuilding in the Romanesque style. Respecting the original architecture, the new basilica inherited the plant consisting of three naves, three apses and a four-sided portico which was no longer a place to receive catechumens but a meeting-place instead.

The Benedictines were the first to take care of the Basilica’s administration. In 1492 they appointed Bramante to design the new rectory by rebuilding some wings of the monastery and rearranging the chapels’ layout. In 1497 the Benedictines were replaced by the Bernadines from Chiaravalle’s abbey, who promoted several cultural initiatives such as the opening to the public of the huge monastic library. In 1799 under the rule of Napoleon and after the constitution of the Cisalpine Republic, the Basilica was closed and turned into a military hospital. It wasn’t until the end of Napoleon’s domination and the rise of Austrian Restoration that the church was reopened for religious use. In 1943 the building was seriously affected by Anglo-Americans bombings which destroyed the inner portico and damaged the dome and the mosaic behind the altar. The Church’s restoration took place in the following years, bringing it back to its former glory.


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The Basilica of San Pietro in Cieldoro – Pavia

The Basilica of San Pietro in Cieldoro (in coelo aureo) was build in the 8th century, during the Lombard period. Tradition states that it was established by the Lombard king Liutprand for the purpose of treasuring St.Augustine’s remains which were transferred from Sardinia after having been redeemed from Saracen pirates, who had stolen them at Hippo.

As most of the churches of the area, it was rebuilt at the end of the 7th century, in the Romanesque style. It was found in the northern part of the village, within a fenced-in area called Cittadella, where the military activities were undertaken. It owed its name to the vault frescoes representing a star-laden sky. On either side of the church were two monasteries: the northern one inhabited by Lateran canons, the southern one inhabited by Augustinian monks.
In 1796 Napoleon’s troops won the city. The church was ransacked, reconsecrated and turned into a stable, while monks were kicked out their monasteries which consequently were entrusted to soldiers.
In 1884, the local “Society for Sacred Art” negotiated with the Army for the repurchase of both the Basilica and the ancient Augustinian monastery. Restoration went on over many years and ended in 1901 with the reconsecration of the church. St.Augustine’s remains (previously buried in the Duomo) were moved back to the church, along with the three-hundred-year-old sarcophagus. At present, the Basilica is still taken care of by the Augustinian monks, who returned to live into the ancient monastery.

There is very few evidence of the previous Lombard church, concealed under the Romanesque building. The Basilica of San Pietro in Cieldoro looks like many other local churches of the same period. It is a brick building with the interior marked by four spans covered over with groin vaults (except for the first, which is a barrel vault). After the triumphal arch, opens up the transept, which occupies the naves’depth. Both the transept and the presbytery are closed eastward by apses. The central concha is decorated with a 20th century fresco, depicting the subject of an ancient mosaic which was destroyed in 1796.

The presbytery is dominated by a marble masterpiece of the 14th century: the Ark of St.Augustine. It is a Gothic work consisting of three parts: at the bottom, there is the urn containing the remains of the Saint; in the middle it can be found a marble statue of a tired Saint Augustine, while at the top, the ark is supported by little pillars and crowned with spires. The entire structure is decorated with more than 150 statues of angels, saints and bishops, together with the presence of several bas-reliefs portraying some episodes of St.Augustine of Hippo’s life.

In addition to Saint Augustine’s relics, the church hosts the tomb of the mercenary warrior Facino Cane. Here, also repose the body of Severino Boezio lies in the crypt and the body of Liutprand, in the pedestal support of the right aisle.

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