OF "SANTA MARIA AL MONTE PENICE"
An oasis of silence and unspoiled nature
At the top of Monte Penice , the northernmost peak of the Apennines, at an altitude of 1460 meters, on the border with the province of Pavia, stands the Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Monte Penice , a building that belongs to the territory of Bobbio.
The Sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna boasts an ancient history, and is placed in an extraordinarily panoramic place: from its square, in fact, it is possible to enjoy a view that ranges from the Trebbia Valley to the Staffora Valley , from the Piacenza to the Pavia area, up to the first spurs of the Alps on clear days.
A place where silence and recollection combine with the green of the woods that surround it, offering an excellent opportunity to devote himself to hiking as well as discovering a sacred place that boasts an ancient history.
The history of the sanctuary
According to historical sources that have come down to the present day, the cult reserved for the Madonna began on Monte Penice over 1350 years ago, following a promise made in the seventh century by San Colombano a Teodolinda , queen of the Lombards. Tradition says that it was the Lombard queen, Agilulfo's wife, who climbed Monte Penice together with San Colombano to show him the territory and make him promise to build a church dedicated to the Madonna on that top.
However, there is also another legendary version, which instead attributes to Teodolinda the decision to erect the church, taken after the death of San Colombano, with a solemn promise made during a visit to his tomb.
In one way or another, a wooden church was built right on the ruins of a Celtic-Ligurian pagan temple that once stood on site: this was demonstrated by the discovery of a bronze statuette dating from the first or second century, depicting a pagan priest intent on making offerings to a divinity, now preserved in the Castle of Montegalletto, in Genoa. This is the most ancient testimony that comes from the site, which would therefore confirm its previous worship.
In 622, on the occasion of a visit to the tomb of San Colombano, in Bobbio, the Lombard king Adaloaldo and his mother Teodolinda went on pilgrimage to Monte Penice to pray, before returning to the village.
Then there is another legend that has been handed down for centuries, and which concerns the Sanctuary, but is, however, linked to the nearby Carlone waterfall , whose waters create a beautiful thermal lake, today frequented mainly by hikers. According to the story, in the Middle Ages, an epidemic of plague broke out in this region, but the monks of San Colombano were all saved by drawing and drinking precisely these thermal waters, which were defined as "miraculous". These waters, it is said, also saved the inhabitants of Bobbio, and the pilgrims who traveled the Via Francigena stopping here to ask for help.
In the 11th century, the building had reached its present appearance and size, after the original construction was restored in 1073. The first certain testimony about this place of worship dates back to the seventh decade of the eleventh century. The ancient name attributed to the Sanctuary was that of "Mother of God", which later became "Santa Maria". Much later, in 1619, the building was further remodeled and restored.
Over the centuries the Sanctuary was part of the extensive possessions of the Abbey of San Colombano , then passing to the Diocese of Bobbio and becoming the main Marian place of worship throughout the territory. The construction of the portico in front of the entrance and the arrangement of the statue of the Redeemer dates back to the early 1900s. In 1967, however, the bell tower was built.
Visit to the Sanctuary
The ancient building has been completely restored recently, and is proposed with the exposed stone exterior and the interior restored to its original splendor. Even the altar and the ambo have been completely renovated, and the sacristy and some rooms open to the public have been recovered.
Inside the Sanctuary you can see the precious wooden statue of the Virgin and Child, made between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, together with the statue of San Bartolomeo, dating back to the 18th century. Since 2009, moreover, the church has been enriched with valuable oriental icons wanted by the rector Don Angiolino Bulla. The iconographic path created by the icons includes the Annunciation, the Christmas of the Lord, the Dormition of the Mother of Mary, Pentecost, the Pantocrator, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
In the square in front was placed the statue of San Colombano , among other things named protector of motorcyclists.
The medieval path to the Sanctuary
The Penice is also a place of particular importance and interest for hiking and trekking enthusiasts. The medieval path that leads to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria al Monte Penice offers a splendid opportunity to combine physical activity and hiking with the pleasure of a total immersion in nature, discovering the traces left by history.
The medieval path to the Sanctuary of Monte Penice is a hiking route that connects Bobbio with the sacred building that stands on Monte Penice. It is usually also referred to as a mule track, since some of its stretches are suitable for carriage and asphalt, while others are passable only on an off-road vehicle, as well as on foot or on horseback. The path crosses a highly suggestive natural environment, inhabited by birds of prey such as buzzards and hawks, and is traced by special signs with trail signs and guideways.
Between Bobbio and the summit of the Penice, a difference in altitude of 1188 meters is overcome, with a total distance of about 20 kilometers. The path is part of the route of the ancient Caminus Genuae, the road that connected the Po Valley with Liguria. Starting from the village of Bobbio, take the Strada Statale 45 of Val Trebbia, in the direction of Genoa, up to Località San Martino, and then take the road for Carana and Moglia. After passing the Carlone stream, the road climbs towards Moglia and then San Cristoforo . From there you reach the suggestive Carlone waterfall . It is a thermal waterfall, inserted in an uncontaminated place in the valley of the Carlone torrent, in an area where there are numerous waterfalls and cascades. At its feet there is a small lake of thermal water, of a bromide-iodine and magnesium nature, and also a saline source of salsa water.
Afterwards you reach the ruins of the ancient monastic church founded by the monks of San Colombano from the 7th century. After the inhabited area of Mogliazze, you pass the Bosco del Comune dei Monaci and the source of Val Mora, then joining the ancient Via del Sale, which from Liguria went up towards the Po Valley. The road continues up to the Cima di Valle Scura, up to the part of the path that climbs steeply to the summit of Monte Penice, on which the Sanctuary stands.
The Feast of the Madonna del Penice
The Feast of the Madonna del Penice is held at the Sanctuary, on the day dedicated to the Name of Mary, on the second Sunday of September. In addition, a night procession is held in mid - August , by the light of the torches, which from the Passo del Penice reaches the summit to celebrate the Madonna dell'Assunta.
Flora and fauna of Monte Penice
The slopes of Monte Penice are covered by beech and coniferous, oak, hornbeam and hazel woods. The local fauna is particularly rich, and includes wild boars, fallow deer, hares, foxes, hedgehogs, martens .
In addition, in recent times, the wolf has made its appearance again, having almost become extinct in the late 1800s. The birdlife, in addition to birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels, sparrow hawks and hawks, is made up of peaks, jays, pheasants, hoopoes and nightingales.
How to get
From Milan follow the A7 with exit at Voghera, followed by Salice Terme, Varzi and Passo Penice. From Genoa follow the SS 45, and then stop in Bobbio. You can also reach the place from Piacenza along the SS 45 to Bobbio. The Sanctuary can be reached not only by car but also by bus.
The summit of Monte Penice can be reached thanks to a road of about 4 kilometers that climbs from the Passo del Penice up to an altitude of 1149, where the provincial road passes. During the winter it is possible to reach the Sanctuary only on foot, since the road is closed to traffic due to the snow.
At the Sanctuary there is a refreshment bar, and a large car park is available, open between the months of May and September.
In Passo Penice, however, hiking or mountain biking trails are organized in the summer. The winter lifts are in operation from December to March. There are two slopes and a school field, served by a ski lift and a cable car, with programmed snow cover and night lighting.