Colico, 22 gennaio 2014   |  

The Piona Abbey: a warning and a hope of peaceful coexistence since VII century

di Viviana Vestrucci

A small colony of meek monks, following the ultramillenarian wisdom of St. Benedict, patriarch of Western monasticism and patron saint of Europe, pray and work, but also devote time to visitors and tourists.

0097af03 Abbazia di Piona Veduta della chiesa da est

The Piona Abbey, view from the East side

The Piona Abbey, or Piona Priory, is an architectural complex located on the shores of Lake Lecco (the eastern bank of Lake Como) at the foot of Mount Legnone on top of the Olgiasca peninsula, forming a small bay within the lake, in a wonderful landscape, in the municipality of Colico.

The History

The earliest sources attesting the presence of a monastic community in this area date back to the VII century, when the Bishop of Como, Agrippino (586-620) dedicated a small oratory, that had been built on the site, to the holy martyr Justina. Today only the ruins of a small stone apse behind the church remain of this original building. The present church and cloister of Piona were built by the monks of Cluny in the XI-XIII centuries, the period of greatest expansion of that Order. In 1138 the church was consecrated, dedicated to Our Lady and then also to St Nicholas of Bari, patron of sailors, as testified by a document dating back to 1154.

Piona joined the Cluniac reform movement between the end of the XI century and the beginning of the next one and was counted among the many homes, more than fifty spread in the region in the period in which the mother abbey of Cluny brought forward the reform of the whole Church and acquired a great significance in the religious community.

But later, from the XIV century, the first signs of a progressive decadence started to emerge also due to the reduced number of monks, the frequent absence of the priors from the monastery , the lack of harmony in the community, the increasing debts that forced the monks to look for loans. The hard economic situation resulted in the lack of proper maintenance of the monastic buildings, difficulty in providing the traditional hospitality and assistance to the poor and sale of assets received as a donation. In 1578 the bishop of Como, on a pastoral visit to Piona, found the premises and furnishings completely abandoned, roofs, ceilings and floors dilapidated and ruined.

The situation got worse and worse till the complex between the end of the XVIII and the beginning of the XIX century became property of the state, upon decision of the Cisalpina Republic; later on the abbey became property of various rich families until 1937, when it was given as a donation to the Congregation of Casamari. In February 1938 the Cistercians sent a small community of monks committed to restoring the cloister and the church and to start again the traditional activities.

The Church

The abbey is in Lombard Gothic style, with French influences. The church has a single nave and dates mostly from the XII century’s reconstruction. The bell tower dates from the XVII century. The frescoes in the apse with the Apostles in Byzantine style were brought to light in 1906.

The quadrangular cloister is the reference point of the whole abbey of Piona, a place of meditation and silence, its structure evoking the symbolic power of the number four: the four elements of the universe, the four cardinal points. The cloister was built by the prior Bonaccorso de Canova between 1252 and 1257.

 The Chapter House is the meeting and reading point of the monks, where they elect their superior by secret ballot, discuss problems, admit postulants to the novitiate. The benches and wooden headboards come from the sacristy of San Zeno in Verona.

The Cistercian monks of Piona, in compliance with the Benedictine rule "Ora et Labora" (Pray and Work) produce through the labor of their own hands what is needed for the community and for selling to visitors. Inside the shop you can find natural products like herbal remedies, cosmetic creams, honey, herbal teas and the famous liquor carefully distilled according to ancient recipes.

 One more reason to be highlighted to schedule a visit to Piona is the panoramic view of the Lake from the Abbey, with sailing boats in the foreground and the villages of Dongo, Gravedona and Domaso in the background.

 Piona Abbey is 37 kilometers from Lecco, a few kilometers from Colico, and can be reached by train till Colico station and then by bus to Olgiasca, with a further 20 minutes walk, or by a boat from Lecco or Como to Piona.

The Abbey is open every day from 9:00 to 12:00 and from 14:30 to 17:00. Free entrance For booking group visits you can contact the Abbey.

For more information contact: ABBEY PIONA  – 23823 Colico, LC – TEL. +39 (0341) 940331 FAX +39 (0341) 931995  – http://www.cistercensi.info/piona/

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