Parish church of Saints Giacomo and Filippo

by Saveria Masa

Church of the Saints Giacomo and Filippo. Façade.

The ancient church of San Giacomo was originally built by the Capitanei family around the 11th century, probably in the wake of the popular pilgrimages from northern regions along St James Way to Compostela. This church was built on a compulsory passage and halt for those passing along the ‘Cavallera’ road of the Muretto pass. Like numerous churches constructed along the ancient access roads to the Alpine passes, it represents one of the numerous pieces of evidence of the local religiousness, which had developed in the Rhaetian valleys during the late Middle Ages. During the Investiture Conflicts, the Capitanei family handed over the church to Rome, although they kept the right of patronage. In fact, it is mentioned for the first time in 1192 by the Liber censum of the Roman Church, to which the church of Valmalenco paid an annual sum of 12 imperial denarii as a sign of dependency. With the right of patronage, the Capitanei family reserved the right to appoint (and, therefore, to employ) a clergyman to work side by side with the curate in the liturgical services. This right was then assigned to the archpriest of Sondrio by the Countess Capitanei in 1359.

Throughout the 14th century, the church took the double name of the church of the Saints Giacomo and Filippo: Ecclesia in loco de Malenco, sub vocabulo S.S. Jacobi et Philippi.

Following the diffusion of the Protestant reform, which had seen the creation in the village of Chiesa of a politically and socially very influential evangelical community. For several years, the church of the Saints Giacomo and Filippo had to be shared with the protestants. With the Diet of Ilanz in 1557, the government of the Three Leagues had actually forced the communities of the Valtellina to give up their place of worship to the protestants for their religion. Where only one church had existed, the Catholics now had to share it with members of the Reformed Church. The use of the churches in Chiesa and Lanzada, the only communities in Valmalenco where the Reform had spread, was regulated by an important pact signed in 1565, which regulated the use of the two religious buildings in turn between the catholic curates and the reformed ministers. The catholics, who were the vast majority of the population, were not happy about having to take turns to use their own church with the protestants, cparticularly as the latter insisted on the churches having no images or furnishings according to the dictates of the reformed belief.

Church of Saints Giacomo and Filippo. Bell tower.

On top of this difficult situation due to the forced communal life between catholics and protestants came the partial destruction in 1579 of the church of the Saints Giacomo and Filippo, as the result of a landslide which hit the village. The church was in part repaired, but for many years it had to remain in a terrible state of ruin until, in 1644, the new priest, Carlo Rusca, grandson of Nicolò Rusca, had the old building demolished and began the current church, which was consecrated by the Bishop of Como, Ambrogio Torriani, on 13 July 1668.

Although the church is still consecrated, it is only used for religious services a few times each year and remains open to the public during the summer months. From 1972 to 2005 it housed some collections from the Ethnographic Museum of the Valmalenco. Next to the church is the ancient oratory of St. Carlo, founded in the year 1689 for the Confraternity of the Sacred Sacrament and the Christian Doctrine.
The religious festival thus became the festival of the patron saint of the parish and is celebrated on 1 May depending on the calendar.

Inside the church there is only one nave with two side chapels. The baptismal font with a wooden cover carved in the shape of a temple, dating back to 1612, stands in a small chapel in the left-hand wall. A precious wooden statue depicting the Immaculate Conception (17th/18th century), which had previously stood in a niche in the external façade, can now be seen in a hollow inside. In the chapel below, there is a canvas depicting the Madonna with Child amidst musician angels and saints (17th century). Some medallions bordered with stucco friezes and portraying scenes of the Life of Jesus are painted on the walls and vault (17th/18th century). On the right-hand wall is a chapel with a canvas portraying the Madonna with Child and the saints Antonio and Biagio (?). On both sides of the chapel stand some wooden statues of the saints Giacomo and Filippo (17th/18th century), which had previously stood in niches in the external façade. Above the high altar there is a stucco ancon containing a canvas portraying the Madonna and the saints Giacomo and Filippo by Domenico Stella (1667). The frescoes on the side walls depict the Four Evangelists, beneath which stand the 12 remarkable carved walnut choir stalls, engraved by Johannes Schmit in 1663. On the front of the kneeler of the first stall is the crest of the Chiesa family dated 1693. The 14 paintings of the Way of the Cross, painted between 1752 and 1759 by Cesare, Vittoria and Pietro Ligari, which used to hang on the side walls, are now preserved at theSanctuary of the Madonna of the Alpine Troops, the new parish church in Chiesa Valmalenco.


  • Mario Gianasso(edited by), Guida turistica della provincia di Sondrio, 2nd edition, Sondrio, Banca Popolare di Sondrio, 2000, pp. 199-200
  • Maria Gnoli Lenzi, Inventario degli oggetti d'arte d'Italia, Rome, La Libreria dello Stato, 1938, pp. 79-82
  • Saveria Masa, Una comunità e il suo santuario: storia e devozione, in Francesca Bormetti – Saveria Masa, Il santuario della Madonna delle Grazie di Primolo, Bettini, Sondrio, 2007
  • Gian Antonio Paravicini, La pieve di Sondrio (a cura di Tarcisio Salice), Sondrio, Società Storica Valtellinese, 1969