<p>&#8220;Macabre Dance&#8221; fresco (by Paolo da Reggio CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)</p>
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Bergamo

A religious order between salvation and suffering.

Iseo, Oratory of San Silvestro
Iseo lake shore (by Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0  Wikimedia Commons)
Heritage place of interest.

Iseo lake shore (by Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

At the end of the late Middle Ages, a religious order was born based on suffering and penance: the ‘Disciplines’ or ‘Disciplinati’.

It is necessary to imagine a historical period defined by many as “dark”, where poverty and misery gave space to extreme movements, which often spread quickly among the lower classes of the population. 

The Disciplinati, originally from Bergamo, strived to alleviate some of the population’s elementary needs with charitable works and impose general pacification with processions and sermons. 

The exhausted folk sought a psychological refuge or mental foundation to hold on to. Due to the unbearable violent reality of some areas in the Middle Ages, people were constantly looking to escape and find a state of order and spiritual peace.

However, the practices pursued were anything but gentle and tame. On the contrary, they gave vent to punitive acts with often gestures of self-flagellation, intent on replicating on one’s body the sufferings experienced during the passion of Christ, thus achieving purity of soul.

This movement, considered extreme and at the limits of religiosity by the same Holy Roman See, took root in the areas surrounding the city of Bergamo in northern Italy and then extended into the nearby valleys, particularly in this one: the Camonica Valley.

This small church, mentioned for the first time in 1296 CE and dedicated to Silvestro I, the thirty-third Roman bishop, who later became pope, became the property of the Discipline order around the fifteenth century. 

As a presence confirmation of the confraternity, in the apse of the complex, there is an exciting representation with eight quadrants, depicting a “dance macabre”, a recurring theme in the Middle Ages. This kind of “dance” shows men and skeletons – the former usually representing the different social classes, a warning for suffering and death, which affects everyone, regardless of economic and social status.

The church is open to the public and represents a rough building that, for this very reason, is a unique gem, capable of making the atmosphere genuinely peculiar. 

Today it is possible to admire and visit this exceptional location thanks to the restoration works carried out in 1985. Moreover, this suggestive village offers characteristic medieval views right on the edge of Lake Iseo.

We now reach the other end of the lake further downstream, almost following the path of diffusion of this religious order, which, from the hills of Bergamo, branched out and penetrated over the years into the meanders of this wild valley.


1. Iseo, Oratory of San Silvestro

2. Pisogne, Santa Maria della Neve

3. Montecchio, Oratory of the Dead

4. Bienno, Santa Maria Annunciata