Parish church of St. Giovanni Battista

by don Michele Parolini

Today's parish church of San Giovanni Battista in Lanzada was begun in 1659 to replace an older church dating back to the 15th century, which had formerly been part of the Collegiata of Saints Gervasio and Protasio in Sondrio. It was designed by Martino Adamo from Ticino, who oversaw the construction work, which continued until 1666, the year in which the essential outline of the building was complete and furnished, and then blessed. It was only consecrated forty years later on 8 June 1706.

The majestic, 48-metre tall bell tower was erected between 1744-47, under the guidance of master mason, Giacomo Cometti.

The only work from the previous church, today preserved in the sacristy is a wonderful oil painting on a panel, depicting the Crucifixion, surrounded by the Madonna and by St. John the Evangelist, St. Antonio Abate and St. Rocco. The painting, dated 1533, is by the Lombard pre-Leonardo school.

The wide, solemn church façade is divided by two rows of pilasters, with elegant side volutes and crowned by a tympanum surmounted by two small pillars and by an elaborate wrought iron cross. The arched portal of local stone has some interesting carved walnut panels (17th century).

The interior is just as solemn. From an architectural point of view, the monumental effect is obtained by effective simplification, in the same way as the façade: a single, large nave with four side chapels, high pilasters, and a single room presbytery lit by one window.

The vault preserves the oldest frescoes (17th century), depicting the Birth and the Decollation of St. John the Baptist, theArchangel Gabriel, the Dove of the Holy Spirit and the Annunciation of the Virgin. The organ swell-box, engraved by Zeffirino Dioli from Caspoggio in 1925, stands against the counter-façade.

If we proceed along the left-hand side, we come to the modern Baptistry, which preserves the original wrought iron gate (18th century) surmounted by a canvas with the Baptism of Jesus (18th century).

The chapel of the Guardian Angel opens on to an altar piece of the same name (18th century). This is followed by an enormous, painted and gilded wooden gallery with numerous friezes and carved putti (17th century). The first organ was installed above it in 1754.

The second chapel reveals the beautiful, painted and gilded wooden statue of the Madonna of the Rosary, probably created by Giovan Battista Zotti towards 1749.

The presbytery is the true spiritual and artistic heart of the church. The walls and the vault are covered in the splendid frescoes by Pietro Ligari (1686-1752), the great artist nicknamed the “Tiepolo of the Valtellina”. The back wall portrays in the form of female figures, the Theological Virtues of Faith and Charity; above is the Church, with the symbols of spiritual and temporal power, which overcomes the enemy; high above on each side of the window are the two Prophets.

On the right-hand side, a large medallion depicts John the Baptist preaching before King Herod; on the left, the Head of John the Baptist is presented to the king, after Salome's dance; on the vault is the Glory of John the Baptist; in the intrados are monochrome figures of prophets.


Here the great, well proportioned, wooden tabernacle stands out. Painted and gilded, it holds the statue of San Giovanni Evangelista, Sant’Antonio Abate, the Battista and Jesus. The latter are surmounted by the bust of the Eternal Father in the act of blessing.

We can also see the fourteen plainly engraved walnut choir stalls, with alto-rilievi by the sculptor Zotti (1706).

On the other side of the nave, commencing from the top, is a canvas depicting the Virgin Mary giving the Rosary to the saints Domenico and Caterina of Siena (18th century). This is followed by the chapel of San Giuseppe, with an altar piece portraying the Transit of the Saint (18th century). Beneath the altar during Lent, you can see a recently restored, wooden statue of the dead Christ (18th century).

The wonderful pulpit of painted and gilded wood is related to and of the same period as the chancel on the right; the central panel has the carved scene of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist.

The final chapel is dedicated to the saints Antonio Abate and Antonio da Padova, depicted together with the Virgin and Child, in the altar piece which adorns it (18th century).

The sacristy with its cloister vault frescoed with fake views by Cesare Ligari, son of Pietro, in 1762 (the fourteen canvases of the Via Crucis have also been doubtfully attributed to Cesare), houses not only the sixteenth century Crucifixion , but also another interesting canvas depicting the Miracle of San Gregorio Magno (18th century), from the mortuary chapel, either by Cesare Ligari, or by Giuseppe Kauffmann.