BORGO SAN DALMAZZO, Abbey Museum and Borgo San Dalmazzo

From Pedona to Borgo San Dalmazzo

In Roman times, there was a very important centre here that controlled the territory: Pedona. Born at the confluence of three important Alpine valleys (Vermenagna, Gesso and Stura), the settlement flourished thanks to trade with Gaul. Here the quadragèsima galliàrum was levied, a tax that was applied to goods in transit; a memorial stone of a customs station employee confirms its existence. Archaeological investigations have not yet established the exact location of the town, but they have discovered numerous burials and remains from the Roman era. Since 2005 the Abbey Museum, set up in the fifteenth-century bishop's villa behind the parish church, tells this important chapter in the ancient history of the territory. The museum displays headstone fragments and burial objects coming from the town and from the necropolis that is under the current church: vases, oil lamps, sculptures and objects for ornamentation and toiletries dated between the second and third centuries AD

A new faith, a new abbey

In the third century AD, a series of events took place that would radically change the territory and the history of the town. Christianity spread thanks to the preaching of San Dalmazzo, according to tradition, martyred together with his companions on 5 December 254 and buried here; devotion to the first evangelizer led to the construction of a religious building which later became a large and powerful abbey. The small church founded in the sixth century on the presumed tomb of the saint was replaced in the eighth century by a large building with three naves, commissioned by the Lombard King Ariperto and entrusted to the care of the Benedictine monks. More than fifty priories and chapels scattered throughout the Maritime Alps and the Cottian Alps area but also in Provence and up to Pavia depended on the abbey. Destroyed and ransacked in the 10th century, the church was also deprived of the relics of the saint transferred to Quargnento in 904 and returned only in 1174. It was not until the 11th century that the church was rebuilt: in the first decades after the year 1000 the church was rebuilt in Romanesque style, with three naves and a small crypt for the cult of relics. A century later the building was further extended: two more lateral naves were added, the crypt was enlarged, a new façade was built to which an atrium was placed for the reception of pilgrims. From this moment the ancient Pedona had now become Burgus Sancti Dalmacii, in honour of the patron saint who, still today, is celebrated with a great fair on 5 December.

Church decoration between the VIII and XII centuries

Among the various redactions of the church dedicated to San Dalmazzo, the one of the Lombard era must have been of particular richness, as evidenced by the findings recomposed in the third room of the museum: the Bardiglio marble quarried in the Valdieri mountains was transported to the valley and worked on site. The decorated blocks were then assembled together and fixed by lead-welded metal elements. The fragments elegantly sculpted with weaves and floral elements exhibited here, belonged to the luxurious fence of the Lombard period that surrounded the tomb of the saint and the altar: it was almost three metres high and ten metres long and had openings to allow the passage of the faithful and for carrying out celebrations. The 12th century decoration of the church was equally elegant: it was made of white and polychrome stucco and covered walls, columns and capitals. In this room there is also a particularly precious find: a fragment of a lid of a tomb decorated with a cross with the letters A (ALFA) and ? (OMEGA). Among all the lids this is the only one that has a decoration with clear reference to the principles of Christianity, it is therefore believed that it belonged to a particularly important burial, perhaps that of San Dalmazzo himself.

The excavations, the crypt and the chapel of relics

The visit to the museum still holds surprises in the most suggestive part: the archaeological area and the church. You just have to go down a few steps to find yourself in the historical core of this place: through metal walkways and glazed floors you can observe the different construction phases of the complex, from the sixth century apse to the fifteenth-century frescoes of the so-called Angevin chapel, up to the splendid crypt built in the 11th century and enlarged in the following one. It is a space with three naves placed under the presbytery area, still partly provided with stucco decoration. Going up through small service stairs, you finally reach the chapel of relics, a sort of balcony with altar and wooden choir. It was built in 1636 by the Confraternity of San Dalmazzo, which still unites here. The rich fresco decoration, framed in white and golden stucco, tells the story of the saint's life. Here the most precious relics are kept, especially the wonderful silver reliquary, made in 1594 to preserve a fragment of the skull of San Dalmazzo.

The Deportation Memorial

Part of the recent history of the territory is told in the touching Deportation Memorial, created by Studio Kuadra near the train station. In 1943, 329 Jews fleeing France were detained in the Borgo San Dalmazzo concentration camp. They were transferred to the station on 21 November, massed along the platforms and made to get on freight wagons. They were first taken to the camp in Darcy and then to Auschwitz: 311 of them were killed. This also happened the following year: 26 Jews left the same station to go to Fòssoli and Auschwitz: only 2 survived. They were men, women and children, they were entire families and their names, ages and nationality of origin are imprinted in the metal, in a row, to the side of the platform, in exactly the same place they were massed together as prisoners: the upright silhouettes are in memory of those who returned, the strips on the ground, of the victims.

The Sanctuary of Monserrato

The town of Borgo San Dalmazzo is dominated and protected by the reassuring presence of the Sanctuary of Monserrato, a much loved and popular place. On this hill, in sixteenth century documents called "montagna di Santa Croce" (Holy Cross mountain), were placed a large cross and a chapel, probably entrusted to the care of the Confraternity of Santa Croce located in the town centre. In fact, the Madonna of Monserrato is mentioned for the first time in documents in 1651 and little by little the name of Santa Croce disappears. The rugged and wooded hill has probably gained the toponym of Monserrato by analogy with the Catalan territory where the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat rises. Already at this time there are many pilgrims and hermits who went to the chapel. The 1795 Book of Accounts tells us of an "ancient statue" to be identified with the small late fifteenth century wooden sculpture now preserved in the Abbey Museum. After Napoleonic occupation, refurbishment work was necessary: the bell tower was built, and the church was surrounded by the portico. The decoration of the church refers to the primitive worship of this place, the Santa Croce: the facade shows the large fresco with the Crucifixion. The interior with a single room was decorated by the painters Tonello and Agnese of Caraglio between 1873 and 1874 with Marian themed frescoes, stories of the Childhood of Christ and the life of the Virgin. On the sides of the high altar the figures of San Dalmazzo and San Benedetto are painted in monochrome, in reference to the Abbey of Pedona.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translations: Europa 92
Copywriter and research: Laura Marino


ATL del Cuneese
Regione Piemonte