Bobbio, a simple Italian hamlet at the center of European civilization

Val Trebbia View all 8 comments

Awarded as “Hamlet of hamlets 2019” in a popular travel TV show, Bobbio is in the center of Europe, also thanks to some diabolical passages.

We are in the seventh century and Agilulfo and Teodolinda are the enlightened rulers (he was the first Catholic king, a pacifier of northern Italy, she was a friend of Pope Gregorio Magno) of a large part of Italy.
The Lombards had come to the peninsula as conquerors in the previous century, and with their guidance organized and strengthened their power over the territory, ensuring control of the Apennine passes that connected the capital of the Kingdom, Pavia, and the Ligurian-Tyrrhenian area. An essential control that was not only carried out with weapons, but also through the establishment of strategic monasteries, in defense of the major transit routes, and at the same time fundamental centers of irradiation of the Christian religion.

In 612 the Irish monk Colombanus arrived in Italy, heading to Rome, after having long been wandering through central and northern Europe.

Extraordinary frescos in the Bobbio Cathedral

He was born around 540 in the Leinster region and was educated at the important monastic center of Bangor, but he felt that his mission was the apostolate outside the confines of his island and left, at the age of forty, bringing the Gospel in Gaul, southern Germany and Switzerland; along its path, at Annegray, Fontaine, Luxeuil and San Gallo, cenobi – monasteries – flourished in which the Rule established by him was practiced.

In northern Italy, the story of one of the most important religious and cultural institutions of the Middle Ages started from the encounter between the Colombian evangelizing thrust and the foresight of Christian sovereigns: around 613 the monastery of Bobbio was founded. The chosen site was a hill town in the Trebbia valley, located along the Caminus Ianuae, the ancient road to Genoa. A small village, until then above all center of the exploitation of the salt pans – assigned to the Longobard leader Sundrarit – which destinies were to change completely.

Columban died shortly afterwards right here, in the year 615, on November 23rd (the date on which the feast occurs in the liturgical calendar), and his successors carried on the mission of the founder making the monastery ever larger.

Monks from all over Europe in Bobbio worked to pass on the fundamentals of our culture.

Pilgrims from all over Europe have always reached Bobbio

In the centuries before year 1000, were the glorious season of Bobbio monasticism, while the possessions of the cenoby extended to an ever greater extent along the Trebbia basin and in the neighboring valleys, the monks who came from all over Europe worked to preserve and pass on knowledge by producing in the scriptorium splendid illuminated pages to which we owe the survival and the handing down of the fundamental pillars of our culture.

The Crusades came, and they also left their mark in Bobbio, among the pieces of the rare 12th century mosaic floor that emerged below the current Basilica di San Colombano, where biblical knights confronting each other, evoking bloody struggles in distant lands, while the eternally cyclical time is represented by the works of the Months associated with the zodiacal symbols.

Meanwhile, the monastery gradually lost its importance and its centrality, usurpers seized its assets and the Malaspina family took power in the area, to whom we owe the construction of the fourteenth-century castle overlooking the village, and the Dal Verme, lineage of Veronese origin that obtained the fief of Bobbio in the fifteenth century.

The story of evangelization goes on the long bridge of Bobbio thanks to the devil!

The long Bobbio’s bridge

Everything between the stone houses along the alleys of the village tells today the story of Colombano, who rests in the crypt of the Basilica, and of the multitudes of pilgrims who, going like him through the streets of Europe, did not fail to stop here to pray on the sepulcher of the Saint, leaving near it sacred relics coming from the Holy Land that came down to us and kept in the Abbey Museum, together with precious testimonies of late antique and early medieval sculpture.

A perpetual memory of Columban, the famous Humpback Bridge has been there for at least a millennium between the two banks of the river, which a legend tells to have arisen in one night. Driven by the need to go beyond the Trebbia to bring the Gospel message, the Saint managed to trick nothing less than the devil, promising him the soul of the first being who had crossed the bridge in exchange for a rapid construction. Having obtained the structure, supported by eleven irregular arches for the different height of the devils who lent their backs to them, the Irish monk let an animal pass – a bear, or perhaps a dog -, winning over the evil one who waited in vain to be able to seize a soul.


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