Franciscan Convent of Mount Mesma
Reaching nearly 600 meters (2,000 feet) in height , Mount Mesma (576 m./ 1,890 ft.) offers its visitors an enviable view of the Cusio landscape. On a summit you can find the Franciscan convent of the same name, dedicated to Saint Francis. From the convent’s courtyard, you can look out over Lake Orta, with the island in the middle and the massif of Monte Rosa defined in the back.
The original path up to the Convent was steep and slippery until the Convent’s caretaker, Francesco Strola from Novara, began the work of paving it and placed the first wooden cross and a column engraved with the date of the founding of the Convent along the path. Mesma can be reach via two different streets that climb from opposite sides, one on the Ameno and Lortallo side and the other from Bolzano Novarese; on both paths we find aedicules of the two Viae Crucis created by local benefactors and later frescoed. The Convent stands on the ruins of the Fortress of Mesima, which was the scene of clashes between the Commune of Novara and its bishop in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In 1358 the fortress was destroyed by men from Ameno and Lortallo who were tired of the bishop’s abuse of power and forays. The convent and church you see today sit on top of the ancient foundations of the Mesima castra.
The idea for the construction of the convent and church came from the Franciscan brothers Bernardino and Giovanni Francesco Obicini from Ameno and was approved by the bishop in 1619. The Capuchins from the Orta Convent tried to prevent the creation of the new convent, saying that it was useless; they so obstructed the convent’s progress that the Sacred Roman Congregation had to intervene so that construction could continue. In 1635, the walls of the church and convent were finished and the cistern was introduced as a water supply. Throughout the centuries the Convent has undergone various structural modifications and evidence of refurnishing.
Today the monastery complex consists of two Baroque cloisters and the church. The church has a single nave and was the object of a large construction project in 1967. A large crucifix sculpted in 1712 by the sculptor Lentignani from Milan hangs above the altar. Until 2005, a monumental eighteenth century linden tree grew in the courtyard, but unfortunately it perished despite much tender loving care. An olive tree has taken the linden tree’s place. The monastery complex is built around two splendid seventeenth century cloisters: the first, right after the entrance, carries out the function of sheltering newly arrived pilgrims while the second, with its ancient well, contains water for the Convent to use, and which gives access to the so-called “stufone room”, where a large serpentine green stove, dating back to 1727 Oira, is preserved. The dining hall for the monks opens up next to this room.
The Piedmont Region has created the Mount Mesma Nature Reserve to protect the religious compound and the rich vegetation that maintains the ancient memory of the cultivation of grape vines, replaced today by chestnut trees.
You can get to the convent by driving 5 minutes on the asphalt road from Lortallo. On foot it is approximately 40 minutes from Ameno.
Contact the convent to arrange a visit.