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Montorfano – Basilica and Early Christian Baptistry

Italia, Regione Piemonte, provincia del Verbano Cusio Ossola, Mergozzo


Fraz. San Giovanni di Montorfano

(CH 1903) E   679642 N   88669 H  
(WGS 84) Long.   8.466 Lat.   45.945
INTERESSE CONTESTUALE Archaeological, Historical, Architectural
ARCHAEOSITE   place of worship


The entrance to the small village of Montorfano is marked by the Romanesque church dedicated to San Giovanni (Saint John). The excavations conducted here in the 1970s and 1980s showed that in ancient times the area was occupied by an Early Christian compound (late fifth to early sixth centuries), traces of which can still be seen: an octagonal baptismal font built into the floor. The compound was subsequently (in the eighth century) replaced by a single-nave, triple-apse, Carolingian basilica whose foundations are still visible outside the present Romanesque building, the result of further alteration work executed in the twelfth century.


The excavation work conducted at San Giovanni di Montorfano uncovered an Early Christian compound dating back to the late fifth to early sixth centuries, numerous Medieval tombs and objects from Imperial Roman times, as well as a flint chip. The compound consisted of two small, separate rectangular chambers with apses, one of which was presumably used as a basilica for religious ceremonies and for gatherings of the faithful, and the other as a baptistry, with an octagonal-shaped structure built into the floor. The Early Christian compound was used until the end of the seventh century, when major construction work changed its original appearance: the baptistry was not altered, but the chamber was demolished and replaced by a larger triple-apse, single-nave, Carolingian style basilica. The current Romanesque appearance is the result of further alteration work executed in the twelfth century: this church contained the small column adapted into a holy water basin and which perhaps came from the Carolingian structure. The Chiesa di San Giovanni in Montorfano was first mentioned in 885 C.E., in the testament of Duke Reginald of Pombia, who left to the Diocese the fruits of his olive groves in the foothills of Montorfano. The dedication to the Baptist, related to the presence of a baptismal font on the site, testifies to the civil and religious significance of the compound. In ancient times the church and the dwelling houses were probably under the protection of the castle (which has now disappeared). The baptistry might have been the site of the early church of Mergozzo. Roman-era objects found during the course of the excavations suggest the existence of Christian buildings in a location previously used by pagan cults.

scala temporale periodi geologici


Follow the jeep track from Pallanza Fondotoce station,


From Mergozzo, walk uphill along the old mule track now called the “Sentiero Azzuro”.


BIANCOLINI FEA D. (1984), “Montorfano di Mergozzo, chiesa di S. Giovanni”, in “Problemi di conservazione e tutela nel novarese”, Torino, pp.54-81;
CARAMELLA P., DE GIULI A. (1993), “Archeologia dell'Alto Novarese”, Mergozzo, pp. 128-130;
COLOMBO F., DE GIULI A., MAFFIOLI M. (1973), “Una chiesa preromanica in Montorfano di Mergozzo”, in "Oscellana" n.2, pp.78-81;
PEJRANI BARICCO L. (1998), “Edifici paleocristiani nella diocesi di Novara: un aggiornamento”, in “Il Cristianesimo a Novara e sul territorio: le origini”, Atti del Convegno, Novara 10 ottobre 1998, pp. 78-80;
PANERO E. (2003), “Insediamenti celtici e romani in una terra di confine. Materiali per un sistema informativo territoriale nel Verbano Cusio Ossola tra culture padano-italiche e apporti transalpini”, Alessandria, p. 262;
POLETTI ECCLESIA E. (2012), “L'insediamento romano di Muregocium”, in “Inter Alpes. Insediamenti in area alpina tra preistoria ed età romana”, Mergozzo, pp. 130-131.

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Programma di cooperazione transfrontaliera Italia - Svizzera 2007 - 2013 Progetto cofinanziato dal Fondo Europeo Sviluppo Regionale (FESR)
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