The Laorca cemetery is located in the Laorca district north of Lecco, region of Lombardy, in Northern Italy, and has developed around the caves and the ancient church of St John the Baptist (also called Chiesa ai Morti, “Church to the dead”) in Laorca.
In 2011, together with Monumental Cemetery of Lecco, it was included in the “European Cemeteries Route” that is the European itinerary of monumental cemeteries. It is in fact inserted in a unique natural context, and it is a jewel of art and nature.
The environment is still highly suggestive: at the foot of the Corno Medale stands a sort of natural amphitheater, created in a rocky spur and fraught with caves and ravines. This site holds the cemetery, several private chapels dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the ancient cemetery church and the chapels in Via Crucis.
The history of the town itself is ancient and mixes religion and tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was a village dedicated to steel processing. The Laorca district of Lecco, at the foot of Mount S. Martino, along the Gerenzone River, was in fact the cradle of the Lecchese steel industry. There were mills, drawing mills and forges which also attracted workers from neighboring villages. Just above the village, in a quiet place, protected by large rocks and pierced by caves, the dead were buried. First in the ancient cemetery church of St John the Baptist and then, starting from the 17th century, also in the surrounding cemetery.
It is said that some miracles occurred in the cemetery area and this attracted devoted pilgrims. Just above the cemetery, tradition indicated the home of St John the Baptist in a large cave, inside which miraculous water flowed from the rock above the cemetery. This water was collected in a stone barrel and used especially to treat eye diseases, but also to improve the growning of the silkworm.
In 1649 an ossuary was added to the church for the victims of the plague brought to Italy by the Lanzichenecchi of Charles V so well described by Alessandro Manzoni in his “I Promessi Sposi”.
In 1765 it was embellished with the construction of a Via Crucis of which, however, nothing remains of the original chapels: remodeled in the following centuries, the ones you see now are from 1989.
Between 1985 and 1989, the painter Paolo Gerosa, locally known as “Paulo”, painted new images for the chapels in a contemporary language, reconstructed in a neo-Romanesque style, using bricks on the previous stone foundations.
In 1922 the complex also became a monument to the fallen of the World War I, or the Great War.
The complex is one of the oldest sacred buildings in Lecco, and its first evidence dates back to 1289, when it was mentioned in Liber Notitiae Sanctorum Mediolani: under its floor rested the inhabitants of the village who had passed away.
In 1933 the Lecco Fascist Authorities decided to build a pharaonic new cemetery in nearby Malgrate and decided to destroy the small cemeteries existing in the villages in surronding areas. Then, about 700 citizens of Laorca wrote to the Lecco Fascist Podestà defending their cemetery and the history of their village. It was a very courage act but, fortunately, it had success and Laorca cemetery is a fascinating place that survives still today with all its centuries of history.
All photos are mine