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The Medieval Churches

According to popular but probably unreliable tradition, the evangelisation of communities living on the eastern shores of Lake Garda began in the 4th century. It came about through the efforts of a zealous and holy bishop of Verona, Zeno, qui Veronam predicando reduxit ad baptisimo, (who, by his preaching, brought Verona to baptism). St. Vigilius, the bishop of Trento, who lived around the same time, supported his mission from the north.

The merits and their apostolic efforts of the two bishops are certainly undeniable facts, but the conversion to Christianity of our people was more probably a very long, difficult and complicated matter. It was, above all, the consequence of a variety of factors such as the passage of merchants, officials, military personnel and the presence of christianised noble families in the area.

Another important factor, undoubtedly, was the presence of devout and holy hermits like Benigno and Caro, famous for having been summoned to Verona in 807 to participate in the transfer of the body of St. Zeno to the new basilica. They settled in the wild and rough environment above the lake on the western slopes of Mount Baldo, where they found the ideal conditions for a life of isolation from the world. The most significant factor, however, were the frequent visits of monks from the Abbey of Saint Zeno in Verona who, from the 9th century on, began accumulating vast tracts of land on Lake Garda and building chapels.

Around the same time, the evidence points to the growing presence of secular (diocesan) clergy, an emanation of the Verona bishopric, organised according to the famous district church model (ordinamento plebano), whose duty was to tend to the souls of the faithful. This organisation was based on the division of the entire county, or the territory outside the city walls, into districts, each with its own mother church, known as pieve, with characteristics, prerogatives and responsibilities more or less similar to the city cathedral.

Every district or pievanìa was entrusted to an archpriest or pievano, initially designated by the chapter of priests of the district church, by the population and the civil authorities, and then confirmed by the bishop. He resided collegially next to his church in a domus sacerdotum (a rectory) with other priests under his jurisdiction. He lived in community with them and together they cared not only for the spiritual needs of the flock entrusted to them, but also handled administrative matters such as the collection of tithes and the maintenance and upkeep of churches under their jurisdiction. He often provided for the establishment and management of a local district school for the education and formation of future clerics. It was his duty to send the priests or chaplains under his jurisdiction to various churches and chapels scattered throughout the district, to celebrate Sunday Mass. The administration of the sacraments, however, was the exclusive right of the district mother church, as evidenced by the prolonged existence of a baptistery only in district head churches. From the 14th and 15th century on, the smaller churches and chapels located in more densely populated areas gradually became autonomous curazie, i.e., churches still dependent on the district head parish, but with their own residing priest or curate. Later again they developed into autonomous parishes with a rector or an archpriest, their own baptistery and all the rest.

As far as the territory of Brenzone is concerned, we know that it was part of the head parish or pieve of Malcesine. Although this was first documented in a famous papal bull of 1145, the pievanìa was probably established much earlier. Even in medieval times the area was characterised by the presence of many small settlements. Churches were usually erected in larger settlements, wherefrom the priest cared for the spiritual needs of smaller communities, or were founded by monks, as in the case of the chapel of Saints Vito and Modesto of Porto di Brenzone.

The oldest chapel of the territory is probably that of Saint Zeno in Castelletto. However, the first recorded evidence we have refers to the chapel of Saints Vito and Modesto of Porto di Brenzone. It was founded by the monks of the Abbey of Saint Zeno in Verona, and documented in an imperial certificate issued by Henry II in 1014. Unfortunately, of this chapel erected on the shores of the lake and destroyed in modern times, no evidence remains. In an document dated 1159 reference is made to the churches under the jurisdiction of the head parish of Malcesine, namely, the chapel of Saint Zeno in Castelletto, that of Saint Nicholas in Assenza and two others.

These, however, the chapel of Saints Simon, Jude and John the Evangelist, and the chapel of Saint Angelo, have never been identified with any of the churches known to have existed in the territory of Brenzone.

The chapels of Saint Peter in Chains of Campo, Saint Mary of Castello and Saint Anthony of Biaza were all built at a later date, as was the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Magugnano. This church, during the 15th century, broke away from the district head parish of Malcesine and became the most important church in the territory of Brenzone.

All the above mentioned chapels came under its care and jurisdiction until the erection of the parish church of Castelletto at the end of the 1600s, and that of Castello in the mid 1700s.

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  1. San Nicola
  2. San Pietro
  3. Sant'Antonio
  4. San Zeno
  5. The Roman Villa