It would take a miracle to save what should have been the little Lourdes of the Lombard Prealps. In Merate, a small town near Lecco, in Northern Italy, about 30 kilometers from Milan, locals call it “ex Oratorio San Luigi” because, before becoming a dark and decaying ruin, it was the parish meeting point in the city for about 30 years.
Actually, this is the Basilica of the Santissima Immacolata, designed in 1906 by Spirito Monsignor Chiappetta, engineer and friend of Pope Pius XI on an area of 4 thousand square meters, a few steps from the city cemetery.
The little Lourdes of the Prealps, before arriving half destroyed and abandoned on modern days, it was also many other things. Among the locals there are those who remember it as a municipal deposit where the salt sacks to be used in the case of frost were stored, a deposit for the road signs, and even as a kennel.
Others, instead, evoke an ancient legend according to which the beginning of its decline began when a man entered on a great horse, a gesture that earned the Basilica excommunication and, consequently, its total abandonment. But, precisely, it is a legend.
What it’s true is that Monsignor Chiappetta, its designer, was one of the most appreciated experts during the fascist twenty years.
Spirito Maria Chiappetta, graduated from the University of Padua in 1894, was ordained a priest in old age, when he was almost 60 years old, thanks to the friendship with Pope Pius XI who, in order to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles and the perplexities of the high prelates, adopted a special permit for his friend.
Chiappetta did not have time to wear the robe that had already been appointed President of the Pontifical Central Commission for Sacred Art in Italy (from 1929 to 1943), an office that before him had been covered by Cardinal Schuster.
However, even though he was definitely a recommended, he was a valid architect: in his career, he realized and restored many sacred buildings, especially churches, bell towers, altars, funeral monuments and chapels.
And, when he came by Merate in 1906, he thought it could be the right place to create a basilica able to recall faithful from all over Lombardy.
In short, the idea was to build a small Lourdes at the foot of the Alps, rather than the Pyrenees.
However, money ended before the conclusion of the project and the work, which was unfinished, was converted in part in an oratory with classrooms, theater and apartments.
In 1965, however, this solution was also abandoned and five years later the curia decided to give everything to the municipality.
Today, the whole structure, with its charm a little macabre, stands behind a wall a couple of meters high, and transmits a feeling of solidity, even if the roof is now collapsing under the weight of the years and the lack of maintenance, and the surrounding meadow is covered with a sort of jungle.
The interior, destroyed and plundered.
During one of the many incursions of vandals, a large prized marble staircase was stolen, and here and there is a collection of ugly graffiti, nothing satanic though and, strange but true, there aren’t any curse or ghost stories around the old building.
In reality there is one, but the only hell with it is dealing with, is that of Italian laws.
Although the municipal administration has the money to start a redevelopment plan, every intervention has remained suspended due to the constraints imposed by the Sability Pact, a real curse for many local authorities.
Over the years they talked about a crematorium oven, an expansion of the cemetery, and even a museum.
The last solution is to transform it into an exhibition-cultural center, connected with the local seat of the Astronomical Observatory of Brera.
However, the curse of the stability pact before will have to be defeated.
All photos are mine.