A story of adventure, courage and rebelliousness.
After the Battle of Delebio (1432), fought between the Venetians, led by Giorgio Corner, and the troops of the Duchy of Milan commanded by Niccolò Piccinino, the latter left some of his forces to garrison Valtellina. Among them was the mercenary captain Pier Brunoro Sanvitale, who was stationed in Morbegno and garrisoned the Val Gerola area as far as Campione di Sacco in the present-day municipality of Cosio Valtellino. It is said that here, Pier Brunoro met Bona while grazing his flocks.
At the time, Bona Lombardi was a young peasant girl, and we can imagine her performing all those tasks typical of medieval agriculture. Most people, in fact, especially in rural and mountainous regions like this valley, survived thanks to their agriculture. There was almost no differentiation in commercial activities, and the entire population lived from hunting, animal farming and trade.
In medieval Western Europe, society and economy were essentially rural-based. Ninety per cent of the European population lived in the countryside or in tiny villages. Agriculture played an essential role in sustaining such an economy. Due to the lack of mechanical devices, activities were performed mainly by human labour.
Both men and women participated in the mediaeval labour force. Most workers were never paid wages, as they almost always worked independently on their own land and produced the necessary goods for their consumption. During the Middle Ages, hard work only ensured survival against starvation and little more. Although peasant women worked just as hard as men, they suffered many disadvantages, such as owning fewer houses, various professional exclusions and lower earnings if they tended other people’s land.
Women in the Middle Ages occupied some different social roles, but far fewer than men. During this period of European history, women mainly held the positions of wife, mother, peasant, artisan and nun, as well as some prestigious leadership roles such as abbess and ruler (only inherited by birthright). The very concept of ‘woman’ changed in various ways during this era, giving rise to examples of true courage, such as that of Bona Lombardi.
The entire medieval society was essentially governed by patriarchy. Marxist historian Chris Middleton has pointed out that this type of control was taken over extensively; in an ideal form, women had to submit to male authority, regardless of their social class. Women had to surrender first to their father or male breadwinner; later, if married, to their husband, under whose guidance they remained for the rest of their lives. Women always had little control over their lives, but Bona’s fate reserved a different future for her.
So it was that Brunoro Di San Vitale, “condottiere di ventura” for the Visconti, was lodged in Morbegno, from where he easily travelled up the Valgerola to Campione di Sacco. The path skirted the river and ascended nimbly towards the chestnut groves, from which the stream could be heard rushing. It is almost poetic to think that Brunoro climbed through the dense trees until the horizon widened into a quiet clearing of heather and meadows to meet Bona. There is still a solitary farmhouse here: that of Bona Lombarda. She was probably there grazing her flock with other companions and was one day noticed by Brunoro. One can imagine that the outings became more frequent, and even the conversation did not take long to lead them to mutual liking, friendship, and love.
In memory of Bona, there is a votive chapel in Campione di Sacco, in the municipality of Cosio, where a plaque with an epigraph is walled up.