the waterfall path and the sanctuary of the Madonna of Montecastello
A story by Ghita Beltrami
From the main Gardesana road one turns towards Tignale to the town of Gardola. After the town it is easy to find the sanctuary by following the signs. The Sanctuary of the Madonna di Montecastello is situated on a calcareous spur of rock on a sheer cliff above the lake from where there is a beautiful panoramic view across Lake Garda. ‘The church which was rebuilt on the ruins of an old castle, consists of a lower church in the roman gothic style and an upper church in the baroque style. In the presbytery behind the main altar of the upper church are the remains of a small temple which can be dated back to around 800 AC and is called the “Holy House”. It contains a fresco of the fourteenth century which has been attributed to the school of Giotto and represents the Madonna being blessed by Jesus. The building is dominated by a copper cupola and consists of three aisles. The main altar has gilded wooden columns with statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. The work was originally attributed to the Boscai family from Brescia, but it now appears to have been the work of a carver from Valsabbia, dating back to the middle of the seventeenth century (Mariani, 125)*. Four medallions painted on copper representing the Virgin Mary had been attributed to Palma the Younger, but were in fact done by Giovanni Andrea Bertanza, after 1611. The large painting in the entrance of the aisle on the right is also Bertanza’s work and was commissioned by the people of Tignale after having been liberated from the highwayman Zuan Zanone Beatrici, also called Zanzanu. He died on the 16th August 1617, but he and his band had terrorized the population of the Alto Adige between the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The two side aisles both have richly decorated wooden altars from the seventeenth century and are dedicated to the Madonna of Loreto and St. Joseph, respectively. On the wall of the left aisle are located two paintings by the Venetian painter Andrea Celesti (1637-1712). The architecture of Montecastello is the result of various periods and mirrors the complicated history of the area. A chain of events spread across the cultural and economic history of a building on a precipice. Two frescoes of the fifteenth century (one dated 1498), the Madonna and Child and other saints such as St. Sebastian, St Vigilio of Trento and a saintly Bishop, perhaps Zenone patron of Verona, or Erculiano bishop of Brescia, and another one of the Madonna with bishop Vigilio. These figures show the strategic importance of this “border sanctuary” as described by Mariani: “The presence of the patron bishops of the bordering dioceses could indicate a reaffirmation of the special position of Tignale: subject to Venetian influence for the temporal and to Trento for the spiritual (Mariani, 77). Until 1785 Montecastello belonged to the Trento diocese and was the boundary between Austria and Italy.’
I read this history in the text by Enrico Mariani (Monte Castello di Tignale. Un santuario del Garda fra Trento e Brescia. Vannini, Brescia, 2004. (Monte Castello di Tiagnale. A sanctuary between Trento and Brescia”. Ed. Vannini, Brescia, 2004), and found the whole story incredibly interesting. However, sitting in the darkness of this church made my limbs shiver a bit, I needed a cheer up so asked at the bar outside and they suggested a walk to the cross above the sanctuary following the sign N. 266 that leads behind the church. It is a beautiful walk towards the Mount Cas where one finds a huge cross from which there is an even better view all over the lake. But I decided to follow the path as I was curious to see where this was leading. At a certain point descending on the other side of the mountain, at a curve I was impressed by an incredible view. At my feet there was the town of Campione, the plateau of Tremosine on the hills and the fjord of the lake with a dark blue. The view was as far as Riva to the north, but by turning my sight to the south the lake extended like a sea and the colour was of a lighter, soothing blue. I found this point emblematic of this place, I could feel the sense of border, of limit, as if the lake had two dimensions : the spooky north and the open south. However, the path descended and I walked down through the wood and reached PRABIONE. At the Centre of the park is an interesting museum that tells about rural tradition of these higher parts of Lake Garda. The path goes down from this point and in one hour one could reach the little town of Campione, a beautiful walk that leads through the cleft to the dam of the San Michele river. I decided to walk back as I had my car parked at the sanctuary.