Bona Lombardi, the peasant girl who became a warrior
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Valtellina

A story of adventure, courage and rebelliousness.

San Lorenzo Church
(by Vicki Burton, Flickr)

(by Vicki Burton, Flickr)

The beautiful parish house dedicated to St. Lawrence the Martyr contains many canvases with portraits of parish priests. An interesting portrait from 1556, those of Bona Lombarda, her husband and father. The parish church and oratory contain many valuable paintings, furnishings, and silver crosses from Naples, gifts from the inhabitants who emigrated to Genoa and Livorno. Among the portraits: a 1590 Descent of the Holy Spirit, in a chapel on the right, and a large canvas with the Charity of St Martin, sent from Naples in 1628. Two bas-relief marble frontals are remarkable, one with the M. and B., from the 16th century, from Rome, the other with St. Lawrence, as well as the precious marbles of the altars. There is also a large canvas above the altar with the M., the B. and other figures sent from Naples in 1613 with other paintings.

Returning to our history, some sources speak of a wedding at the church here in Sacco. Bona nevertheless followed her husband in his warlike exploits, learning to fight like the other men, actively participating in some battles. The storytellers recounted her tenacity, speed and desire for redemption to feel equal to her comrades-in-arms. Thus, it was not long before Bona became known as the female warrior in the ranks of the Italian mercenaries.

Battle after battle, Bona left Valgerola and travelled throughout Italy. In 1440 she was with Brunoro on Lake Garda during the Battle of Torbole at the service of the Milanese. Soldiers of fortune were loyal to no one, and this was also true of Brunoro. In fact, his friendship with Sforza ended in 1443 when he passed into the service of the kingdom of Naples led by Alfonso of Aragon. 

Francesco Sforza, future lord of Milan, interpreted this ‘change of flag’ as a betrayal, so much so that he decided to retaliate with a deception: he had fake evidence prepared to show that Brunoro intended to kill Alfonso d’Aragona, promptly alerting the king of Naples of the threat. 

He was then suspected of returning to the pay of Milan and imprisoned. The captain was arrested and detained in Spain from 1443 to 1453, deprived of all his property, his men and especially his love. He would probably have died in chains had Bona not intervened. 

Indeed, the woman did not sit idly by; for several years, she went to numerous Italian courts and even to the King of France to ask for their intercession for her husband’s release. Finally, thanks to her diplomacy, King Alfonso was convinced to give Brunoro his freedom back (it is no coincidence that he is known in history books as ‘King Alfonso the Magnanimous).

After ten years of imprisonment, the perseverance of his beloved was rewarded, and Brunoro was freed. Once freed, he passed to the orders of Venice, remaining at Bona’s side and was sent to Negroponte, in the Mediterranean Sea, with the task of defending it from the Turks. Brunoro died in battle in 1466, and two years later, in the Greek Peloponnese, Bona also died. Thus ended the life of this heroine, whose fearless character is compared by many to the likes of Joan of Arc.

Breathing in the mountain air of Valtellina, we imagined a rural Middle Ages, from which Bona’s origins derive. We addressed the theme of women in the Middle Ages and above all, got to know the figure of this woman who, despite adversity, managed to stand up in a brutal, hostile and patriarchal society. Thanks to her story, we can meditate on the inequality that the female gender suffered throughout history, appreciating even more the deeds of these too few characters.


1. Delebio

2. The chapel of Bona Lombardi

3. San Lorenzo Church