The church of San Martino: a splendid balcony on Lake Como5 min read
The village of Griante is located in a wide plain within the central area of Lake Como, opposite to the Bellagio promontory and with the Grigne Dolomite range as a background, in Northern Italy.
Thanks to its privileged location, the area is scattered of villas, some located near the lakeshore and were built between the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when tourism steeply increased in the zone began to attract British and German tourists.
These villas hosted distinguished personalities, including Giuseppe Verdi, who composed the most beautiful arias of La Traviata surrounded by the quiet of Villa Margherita (also called Villa Ricordi), as well as Queen Victoria of England, Nicholas II of Russia, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, the Prince Umberto ll di Savoia (before becoming the last king of Italy), pope Pius XI as well as chancellor Konrad Adenauer, one of the European Union’s founding fathers, who used to describe Griante as his ”second home.”
Since the end of the 18th century, Griante has been one of British tourists’ favorite holiday resorts. In fact many settled here and founded a community so important that an Anglican Church was built, consecrated in 1891, the first in Italy.
From here a path starts that climbs along the woods offering picturesque sights of the lake, up to the church of San Martino, located in a splendid panoramic position near a rock called St. Martin Stone in the homonymous park.
From here you can see the two branches of the lake at the same time, with Bellagio in the middle.
The existence of a church dedicated to St. Martin, San Martino al Monte, is documented in the late 16th century, but it is believed that the Romans had built on this hill an observation post equipped with a lookout tower with an annex to the south and a small house for the soldiers to the north. In fact, during some restoration works some archaeological finds and some gold coins from the Roman era were found, now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Como.
In the following period, the two blocks were unified to form the archaic nucleus of the church, as it must have appeared at the time of the pastoral visit of the Bishop of Como in 1593, but it was around the middle of the seventeenth century it received its current name and title.
It happened when, at the time of the great plague (1628 – 1630) described by Manzoni in: “I promessi sposi”, a shepherdess looking for water accidentally found the statue of the Madonna with the Child in a mountain cave, now known not by chance as the “Hole of the Madonna”.
Excited by the discovery, the shepherdess returned to Griante to bring the news that quickly spread among the locals, who went to the place and, having ascertained the veracity of the story, decided to transfer the statue to the parish church SS. Nabore and Felice where everyone could venerate it.
However, according to the legend, the wooden statue, finely finished and probably dating back to the late fifteenth century, disappeared and was miraculously found again to the hill where it was found, but no longer in the cave which is so difficult to reach, but in a position from which it could dominate the town below and Lake Como, on the St. Martin Stone.
Historically, a century earlier, the area was devastated by soldiers and mercenaries from the Reformed nations. As a result, it is thought that many images were hidden to prevent their desecration. Their subsequent discovery often led to the foundation of shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary – a “bulwark” against heresy – such as the Madonna del Soccorso in Ossuccio (but this is another story).
In any case it seems the statue had been rescued by a man from nearby Menaggio hundred years before, when the country was devastated by the Grisons who destroyed all the statues of the Saints.
Its discovery on the St. Martin Stone was interpreted as the desire of Mary to be venerated in this place, so a niche was built and then, later, today’s church.
The existing building was expanded and was known as the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Grace in St. Martin. In the following century new works were done on the building and, in 1805 the church was enlarged to accommodate an ever increasing number of faithful.
Since that time it has been restored several times, but leaving the structural aspect unaltered.
On the wall of the little church an accidental pilgrim or tourist can notice a plaque, there for over a hundred years, on which are engraved the following words with a request for prayer:
“A young Pole, Giuliano Chlapowski, at the age of 19, a short distance from this church, fell from the mountain where he died on September 29, 1909. Prayer”.
Julian (1890-1909) was the youngest son of Franciszek Stanisław Chłapowski from Chłapowice and Countess Maria Irena Teresa Łubieńska Chłapowska.
In what circumstances exactly the young died is a mystery. Probably, like his father, a good scientist and professor at the University of Poznań, a world-renowned doctor and naturalist, as well as a lecturer in geology and palaeontology, he wanted to discover the secrets of the Alps.
Unfortunately, he lacked experience, skills or simply happiness and Julian died a tragic death, leaving his father and three sisters in grief (the Countess, his mother had died for three years before).
According to some sources, he fell from the rock but survived, and probably died on the day after.
Interestingly, other Julian’s close relatives are also buried in Italy, including his grandfather and father of Countess Łubieńska Chłapowska (born in Rome), Count Edward Henryk Jakub Łubieński, writer and Catholic activist, who was buried in 1867 in Rome at the Church of San Claudio.