The Assumption of Mary
The majestic Romanesque church of The Assumption of Mary is clearly visible upon arrival in Armeno from Miasino or Gignese: it rises into the air near enough to Armeno’s central piazza that it can be reached via a romantic tree-lined stroll. This church definitely deserves a visit, not only to see its impressively preserved structure, but also to appreciate the beauty and abundance of its statuesque pictorial decorations.
The inside of the church is truly striking and - if not for the presbytery area redone in the nineteenth century - one visiting the church could argue that time had stopped during the twelfth century, when it was built. The church has recently undergone various renovations aimed at eliminating some of the additions that concealed its beautiful medieval structure. The walls are made of large squared-off stones that impart a remarkable sense of solidarity and robustness to the structure. The soft, calibrated lighting inside leads visitors to admire and meditate on the many frescoes of various ages - mostly from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - that cover the majority of the walls.
The bell tower was constructed before the church was built, dating back to the eleventh century. It was a symbol of Armeno and the voice that pronounced clearly to the peasants through its tolls that it was time to come to church. Tradition has it that the earliest church was built by Saints Julius and Julian and dedicated to the Virgin during the twelfth century.
A splendid testimony to the beauty of Romanesque architecture and one of the oldest structures in Cusio, the church includes a portal decorated with zoomorphic capitals (strange faces and heads of animals) and columns that lend to the classic medieval symbology, with a strikingly embellished façade.
The rather austere outside of the church was once decorated with large frescoes, but is now livened up by hanging arcs that decorate the façade and by buttresses that mark the outer walls. The square-based bell tower stands on the northern side of the church.
In the mid-nineteenth century the three original Romanesque apses were torn down to expand the presbytery area, creating a large rectangular space that was decorated entirely with new paintings. The symbol of the three apses, which referred to the church’s three naves, can still be seen today thanks to the stone that marks their progress on the floor, next to the last two pillars before the altar.
Between 1958 and 1963 the church underwent important restorations that got rid of the overlapping late Baroque and nineteenth century influences from the Romanesque structure, including the entrance porch and the decorations that hid the suggestive medieval frescoes, which had been hidden for a long time under a layer of lime. The medieval frescoes, created by various different artists, depicted a series of figures of saints and prophets created by the artist Giovanni de Campo from Novara in 1440, located in the last bay to the right.
There are many figures of saints and the Madonna all around the church. These figures were created as votives, especially for people from that region, which was a common practice during that era. The truly excellent and now very rare representations of the Holy Trinity are also very interesting and well preserved. You can clearly see the so-called Three-Headed Trinity (fourteenth century) on the second pillar to the right; this representation of the Trinity was used during the Middle Ages, but condemned by the Council of Trent at the end of the sixteenth century for its “grotesque” appearance. The Three-Headed Trinity from Armeno was saved thanks to the fact that for centuries it remained hidden under a layer of plaster.
Moving into the transept and looking to the left, you can admire the large altar piece with the 1548 Lamentation of Christ by Fermo Stella from Caravaggio, a well-known student of Gaudenzio Ferrari. A painting dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary with Saint Dominic, Saint Catherine, Saint Francis, Saint Anthony, and Saint Julius hangs in the right transept, surrounded by 15 smaller paintings depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary.
The large altar piece from the eighteenth century that sits on the main altar depicts the Assumption and we no longer know with certainty who created it. Surrounding the church is a large lawn which is itself enclosed by the striking, recently restored Via Crucis (Crucis Street).
Open every day from 8:00 A.M. - 7:00 P.M.
Lots of parking available.