A religious order between salvation and suffering.
Church of Santa Maria Della Neve
The church of Santa Maria Della Neve rises on top of a rock formation watching over the whole village of Pisogne.
The church was built in the second half of the 15th century, and it bares a very simple façade with a ‘gabled’ roof. The portal, made of red sandstone, is decorated with candelabras and bears the image of two saints’ heads on the architrave. It is surmounted by a semicircular niche with a statue of the Madonna and Child, with two frescoed angels in the background.
However, on the frontal façade, there was a macabre fresco depicting the Dogma of Death, a theme that suggests the presence of the Discipline Order in the structure.
The confraternity members had the obligation of public discipline, from which women were exempt but were obliged to attend meetings. These were generally held every Sunday, just as Catholic tradition dictates. Meetings were therefore held on the premises near the church, or in the church itself if the school did not have suitable spaces. No one other than the disciples could attend, and the practice was never to be practised alone but always in front of witnessing brethren. Curiously, the motivation for this was basically to prevent certain violent practices from causing a stir and horror in the eyes of those uninitiated about the discipline of the order. This was very important so as not to fall into trouble with the high ranks of Rome’s Church and consequently be accused of heresy. In fact, at the time of the Disciplines, the spreading of heresy and concepts such as witchcraft and black magic was very common. The Inquisition, that body appointed by the Roman church to hunt down and punish infidels, was notoriously merciless and greatly feared, always ready to hunt down the enemies of Rome. Therefore, practices such as that of the Disciplines could be seen as too extreme.
The brethren wore the cape and carried the scourge. The rite began with an introductory reading that was meant to remind them of how many gifts God the father had given humankind, in particular, the privilege of being part of the order.
Unfortunately, today there is almost nothing left of their presence, and the external fresco has almost completely vanished through time.
Nevertheless, the true artistic attraction of this church is inside. This little church, in fact, bears the hand of the famous Renaissance artist Romanino. Santa Maria Della Neve bears the name of Romanino, an influential Italian painter who frescoed the walls of churches and palaces of various Italian seigniories in the 16th century.
Son of a family that settled in Brescia at the beginning of the 15th century, Girolamo da Romano, known as Romanino, was born in Brescia in 1484 CE. His training took place between Brescia and Venice, with influences from Giorgione and Dürer, as evidenced by the Madonna and Child, preserved in the Louvre Museum and executed around the middle of the first decade.
Romanino stands out for his artistic vein, characterised by a strong sense of everyday reality in his gestures, expressions and costumes. Here in Pisogne, in this church, we are in the presence of perhaps the highest moments of Romanino’s poetics: the ‘Passion of Christ’ depicting the sufferings of Jesus during the Via Crucis.
The Station of the Cross is a pious exercise of the Catholic Church, by which Christians prayerfully recall Jesus’ walk to Golgotha carrying his cross. It traditionally consists of 14 Stations, each evoking a moment of the Passion (some of these are attested by the Gospels, others are handed down by tradition).
In Santa Maria Della Neve in Pisogne, defined by Giovanni Testori as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the poor’, the scene of the Crucifixion and the Stories of Christ, laid out originally and uniquely, speak a popular language, rich in emotions, that calls the faithful to choral participation. The artist seeks a direct spirituality through grotesque human forms that merge with the reality of the surrounding atmosphere. It is possible to admire a sequence of frescoes in which Romanino shows care for details and offers a harmonious combination of shapes and colours. This church represents a strong example of the art and history of Valle Camonica.