Santa Maria del Sasso is located in Morcote, a good starting point for discovering a series of buildings of national importance, not least of which are the houses in the village itself; packed together they have the appearance of a citadel. Morcote is mentioned in documents as long ago as 926 AD and is the home of many famous artistic families including the Fossati, Bazzurri, Paleari, Raggi and Caccia.
The village grew up along the shores of the lake, adding noble houses and typical arcades along the lakeside; these were used as shelters for fishing boats. It’s worth making a stop at Torre del Capitano, on the lakeside. Built in 1249 it marked the end of a containing wall running round the village, and was restored in 1992. Reduced to the height of the two houses either side, it is made of characteristic homogenised ashlars, with a narrow entrance surmounted by fragments of frescoes from a baroque scroll ornament of the armorial bearings of the town council.
Another notable building is the Palazzo Paleari, erected in 1483 next to the run off at the eastern corner of the arcaded houses; it was renovated in the baroque period of 1661. From the lakeside there are various flights of steps leading up to the church of Santa Maria.
After a visit to the church don’t miss the monumental cemetery, which contains the graves of several famous people.
The excursion continues with a stop at the oratory of Saint Antonio di Padova, next to the presbytery on the border of a panoramic terrace. This oratory consists of three storeys, built in 1676 on a central octagonal ground plan, and renovated in 1880. The stucco decorations of the choir were added in 1682 by Abbondio Peleari. The frescoes in the cupola (25m long and 3m high) are from the same period, executed by the artist Giovanni (Johann) Carlone; they depict scenes from the life of Christ together with the apostles. A monumental flight of 404 steps (1727-1732) leading down from the terrace is a Via Crucis which reaches the chapel of Saint Antonio Abbot, built in 1300. The chapel is overlooked by an ancient convent of Antonian Friars (a congregation founded in 12thC in Vienne, France), now the elementary school. The side chapels of the religious building house frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of the Apostles and the Holy Family; these have been attributed to the Seregnese workshop. Above the altar is a painting of the Day of Judgment by Antonio Ripa.
From here one flight of steps leads to the east, back down to the village, and another down to the lake near the municipal buildings. To the west lies the Parco Scherrer, botanical and artistic gardens well worth a visit.
Santa Maria del Sasso
Morcote is an ancient settlement referred to as early as 10thC; at its very edge is a flight of 400 steps leading to a panoramic terrace where the parish church of Santa Maria del Sasso stands in a wonderful panoramic setting overlooking the local houses; the view sweeps over the lake and the surrounding hillside . In 1300, the church of S. Antonio Abbot, founded by the Antonian Friars, was too small to contain all the faithful, even when the footholds carved in the rock under the porch were packed. The inhabitants of Morcote remembered that there was a little votive chapel at the foot of the rock above the village; it was here that a small stone figure of the Madonna was found in 1313, and the church was then built on this holy site (1462-1478). The style is Romanesque with a main nave and two side aisles, supported by six characteristic pillars in terracotta . The side chapel devoted to San Carlo was built in 1581, and the chapel of the Crucifixion opposite added in 1591. The two vestries and the altar niche were added some time between 1750 and 1758. The church was then renovated in Baroque style in 1758; as a result the axis was turned through 180 degrees and a new choir added to the south. The organ was mounted in 1785 on the site of the antique apse; it comes from Varese, and was made in 1700. The frescoes in this antique choir have been attributed to Domenico Sursnicus (1513) and remain partly hidden by the organ itself. They depict scenes of the Passion of Christ - to the right the Garden of Gethsemane and to the left Christ carrying the cross. On the frontal wall is a portrayal of the Crucifixion, and, on the vault, scenes from Genesis. The oldest frescoes can be seen on the cross vault and the arch of the south-east bay; they were painted shortly after the building work was finished, between 1480 and 1490, and represent God the Father, saint Augustine, saint Thomas Aquinas and saint Geronimo. They are particularly valuable for their quality and their place in the history of Lombard art. The figures of the six saints painted on the rafters of the central nave have been attributed to Domenico da Montorfano. In the south west bay the Fishing Miracle dominating the entrance would appear to be the work of Bartolomeo Suardi, a political refugee who stayed in the area in 1500. The medallions painted on the vault depict the dove of the Holy Ghost and angels; sibyls decorate the transverse arches.
Saints Giovanni and Antonio Eremita (1614) stand to the left of the entrance. On the opposite wall the hermit saints - Paolo and Antonio are depicted on a landscape background . To the right is the coat of arms of the family of the commissioners - Fossati, painted in 1595, probably by Giovanni Battista Tarilli. The lower register exhibits a portrait of San Carlo Borromeo and Madonna Lauretana (1614). In the south bay of the west aisle are four scenes from the life of John the Baptist , the lunette to the west displays the Stigmata of San Francesco, also by Tarilli and painted in the same year. To the left the columned retables in stucco, in three compartments along the axis of the side aisles; they contain an altar cloth of the Rosary, accompanied by two barely discernible frescoed figures of saints; to the right a 16thC statue of the Madonna seated on the throne as well as paintings of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The chapel of the Holy Sacrament, opening to the west, was built in 1591. It contains lacuna stucco work on the barrel vault, a stucco altar with a painting of the Crucifixion and, to the side, frescoed figures of members of the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament, dated 1611. On the opposite side is the Checca chapel (1581), readapted in Baroque times and covered with a dome during the second half of the 18thC. The ‘trompe oeil’ architectural features were painted in baroque times (ca. 1795) by a very talented hand, maybe Cipriano Pelli di Aronno (1750-1822), while a 17thC bust of San Carlo Borromeo rests on the pediment of the altar.
The paintings in the chapel of the Crucifixion date back to the beginning of 17thC.
The main altar was made out of marble in 1758. It bears a 16thC statue of the Madonna; either side are paintings by Davide Antonio Fossati (1799) (The Epiphany and the Nativity of Maria). The late Romanesque steeple was raised in 16thC according to designs drawn up by the artists - Rossi and Paleari originally from Morcote, and just back from Tuscany in 1532. Guided by these plans, the inhabitants spent seven years raising the original Romanesque steeple using blocks of stones taken from the defence wall of the castle; it was finally completed in 1729 with the addition of the octagonal superstructure and a dome. The panoramic cemetery near the church has preserved some interesting 19thC tombs .
Centre of Morcote
along the lakeside, arcades and old elegant houses.
Torre di Capitano
built in 1249 at the end of the wall surrounding the town
built in 1483, and modernised in the Baroque era. Monumental flight of steps leading up to the church of Santa Maria del Sasso.
Oratory of S. Antonio of Padua
next to the parish house on the edge of a panoramic terrace. Central, octagonal ground plan, three storeys high built in 1676 and renewed in 1880. Stucco decorations in the choir by Abbondio Paleari (1682). Frescoes in the cupola by Giovanni (Johann) Carlone with scenes from the life of Christ and the Apostles (17thC).
Chapel of S. Antonio Abbot
built in 1300 in the shadow of an ancient convent of Antonian Brothers; frescoes of scenes from the life of the Apostles and the Holy Family, attributed to the Seregnesi workshop. Last Day of Judgement by Antonio Ripa above the altar.
In the vicinity:
a botanic and artistic jewel set on the lakeside.
Open from March to the end of October, 10.00-17.00, July/August 10.00- 18.00.
Recommended period: march - october