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Santa Petronilla

Santa Petronilla

Tour description

Historically Biasca has always been an important little town and this can still be seen from the urban layout, and the many significant historical monuments. This itinerary threads its way through both aspects to concluding at Santa Petronilla, a splendid location from where the eye can sweep over the whole area.

Starting point - Casa Cavalier Pellanda, next to the main piazza. This structure was built in 1586 and is now a cultural centre and Tourist Office. Named after Giovan Battista Pellanda, (1541 - 1615) a prominent figure in the political, economic and religious life of the town, it bears witness to his wealth and power at that time. Built between 1891 and 1905, the parish church behind the piazza is dedicated to saint Carlo. This imposing building is a reminder of Biasca’s connection with Carlo Borromeo who visited the area of Alto Ticino several times during the period in which he represented the Diocese of Milan; due to various complicated historical events the area of Tre Valli (including Leventina, Blenio and Riviera) used to belong to the Diocese of Milan.
A flight of steps leads up to the splendid Romanesque church dedicated to saints Peter and Paul, from its elevated position the imposing church dominates the whole town. The former parish church, mother church of Tre Valli goes back to 12thC, but its origins could be even older - precious 12th -13thC frescoes have been preserved in the interior. The paintings in the ribbing of the vault (possibly from 12thC) are very unusual, with strong symbolic significance (the horse and the wolf; the smith and the cock; the lion and the serpent). Scenes from the life of San Carlo were painted by Alessandro Gorla in 1620 and the baroque chapel was commissioned by Cavalier Pellanda twenty years earlier in 1600. Running alongside the old cemetery to the right of the church is a path which leads up to the beginning of the Via Crucis, blessed in 1779. Fourteen Stations of the Cross wind up the hill in the shade of chestnut trees; the original frescoes had all but disappeared when they were replaced in 1998 with mosaics by contemporary artists. It takes about twenty minutes to reach the stone bridge over the torrent - Froda, where you can admire the waterfall and the oratory of Santa Petronilla.


Santa Petronilla
The oratory dedicated to Santa Petronilla is set above the town of Biasca on a beautifully landscaped plateau . It can be reached by foot in less than half an hour starting from the church of saints Peter and Paul, following the Via Crucis. From the top the sweeping view over the opening to the valleys - Leventina and Blenio, shows how the location of Biasca was once a strategic position. It used to be at the cross roads of two historically important routes - one across Lucomagno and one across San Gottardo. The town was an important political and ecclesiastical centre of the Tre Valli as far back as the Middle Ages. The Charter of Biasca was signed on 1st January in 1292. This treaty ratified the rights of the community, a fact recorded on the commemorative stone near the bridge .
The name of Petronilla was associated with devotion and recorded as early as 16thC in documents which refer to the traditional procession held on 31st May, the martyr’s feast day. A convent is also mentioned, but it may have been a monastery or a hospice - the records are not clear. What is clear however is that above the present oratory, remains of walls have been found on a rocky spur suggesting that at one time there was a fortified house there. Some historians have connected it with the Orello family - nobles from Locarno who ruled over Biasca for centuries. The relationship between the site of religious devotion, the monastery/hospice and the fortified house is not clear. However a religious building in a raised location could have been part of mountain life: in which case S. Petronilla would have been a stopping place on the journey through the Alps.
Archaeological research carried out in 1986 set the first little church in the 13thC, although there may have been some pre-existing construction. The decision to erect the present day building was taken in 1632 (the date inscribed on the façade). The community of Biasca had been hit by calamities; the flood of 1513 swept away part of the village, then the plague also took a heavy toll of lives in 1584 and again in 1629/30. As a result the inhabitants decided to strengthen the bonds of devotion to San Rocco, protector from contagious diseases (an oratory was built in his honour in 1596) and Saint Petronilla, who was already a widely popular figure of devotion in the area. She is not a saint one comes across often in churches - a young martyr from the first centuries of Christianity, she has a large following in France. Devotion to the saint may have come from there over La Rezia, as it did for other saints in Tre Valli - San Remigio, San Martino and San Maurizio. The project was completed in 1638, the year of the artistic decoration. About twenty years later the bell was cast and inscribed with the words «AT FULGURE ET TEMPESTATE LIBERA NOS DOMINE ANNO DNI 1680». Since then the main structure of the oratory has not been fundamentally modified. Work carried out in 19thC was aimed mainly at conservation, and again in 1985/87 to counter the effects of damp and the passing of time. The oratory is a small, modest rectangular building with a cross shaped vaulted choir and a ribbed steeple . The image of Santa Petronilla is painted on the façade as well as the date the church was modernised (1632); to the right is the 17thC sacristy.
The interior is richly decorated with frescoes painted by an unknown artist between 1638 and 1651; most of them are votive paintings relating to the Pellanda family . On the wall to the right is a picture of Christ in the sepulchre, an episode from the life of the patron saint Petronilla and a Madonna with saints Rocco and Antonio Abbot. Three paintings hang on the opposite wall - the Virgin Mary together with saints Giovanni and Sebastiano, the Delivery of the Keys to Peter and the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. An altarpiece depicting the Virgin Mary, Santa Petronilla nd Carlo Borromeo hangs in the choir; either side are scenes from the saint’s life and portraits of saints Peter and Paul .
Colourful musician angels painted by an unknown artist in the middle of 17thC introduce a festive note to the decoration on the ribbing of the vault . The Annunciation, Saint Apollonia (portrayed with the instrument of her martyrdom - the pliers used to pull her teeth out) and saint Caterina are all painted over the arch; below, two other martyrs - Agata and Lucia each displaying the symbols of her martyrdom - breast and eyes.
At one time more votive pictures used to hang in the little oratory but now they are kept in the parish house .
(key: from the parish tel. +41 (0)91 862 17 02)

Casa Cavalier Pellanda
16thC house restored 1980-87, now exhibition centre and tourist office. Built by Giovan Battista Pellanda, local VIP, in 1586.

Parish church of S. Carlo
imposing building in the form of a Greek cross with an octagonal cupola (end 19thC early 20thC). Church of Saints Pietro and Paolo - a national monument. Formerly the parish church (12thC), situated in a dominant position with a panoramic view. One of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture, renowned for its 12th-15thC frescoes.
(Keys available from the parish, Tel. +41(0)91 862 17 02)

Via Crucis
blessed in 1779. The fourteen stations were restored in 1998; the frescoes had faded and disappeared and have been replaced with mosaics by modern artists (Giuseppe Bolzani, Max Läubli, Giancarlo Tamagni and Mauro Valsangiacomo).

Stone bridge on the Froda torrent

S. Petronilla waterfall


Recommended period: april - october

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Places along the route: Biasca Centro - Casa Cavalier Pellanda - Pfarrkirche San Carlo - Kirche Santi Petro e Paolo - Via Crucis - Kirche Santa Petronilla


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Tour history (B00900)

First published: Freitag, 26. Januar 2007

Last updated: Montag, 18. Mai 2015

Tour published by: Presented by

Tour characteristics

Distance: 1.4 km | Time requirement: 2 h
Ascent: 99 m | Descent: 14 m
Highest point: 392 m.a.s.l.

Difficulty T1 Hiking

Printing, information

See also

Bellinzonese e Alto Ticino
Sede Biasca e Riviera
Contrada Cavalier Pellanda 4
CH-6710 Biasca
T +41 (0)91 862 33 27
F +41 (0)91 862 42 69