— Conegliano Valdobbiadene

The guardian of the vineyards

The ancient Church of San Vigilio in Col San Martino offers a spectacular view of the area

Clinging to a hillside like an austere guardian and protector of the vines that surround it, the church of San Vigilio is one of the most fascinating buildings in the area. The church lies along the Sentiero delle Vedette (The Lookout Path), which follows the ridges of the hillsides from Col San Martino to Soligo, and from here the view stretches across the entire valley of the Piave river.

The church is best reached on foot, leaving the centre of Col San Martino and continuing towards Posmon. After a 10-minute walk through steep vineyards it stands out among the vegetation with its typically Romanesque style. It started life as a small oratory in the 11th and 12th centuries and was originally a simple structure with a gabled roof and exposed beams, described in 1217 as the Eclesia San Bosman. Over time it was enlarged, with the bell tower being built in the 11th century and the apse in the mid 14th century. It was also adorned with frescoes, among them an altarpiece dedicated to San Vigilio, Bishop of Trento, with at its sides St Antonio Abate (on the right) and St. Eustace, protector of hunters (on the left).

During the First World War it was used as a look-out for the Austro-Hungarians and suffered serious damage and was stripped of its paintings. Restoration work gave the church new life in 1979 when the inside was renovated and the stairs inside the bell tower rebuilt. The three original paintings were replaced by a wooden altarpiece showing San Vigilio by Stuflesser, a sculptor from Val Gardena. On its right there is a painting of St Antonio Abate by Cima di Villa while on its left there is a painting by G. Modolo showing St Joseph working in his workshop under the watchful gaze of Mary and Jesus.

The oldest fresco still remaining in the church, from the early 1400s, can be seen on the right hand wall and shows the Madonna with Jesus and St Nicholas Giving Blessing. Other notable paintings in the church – probably dating from the 15th century and attributed to Giovanni da Francia – are the St George killing the dragon and Saints James and Barnadino da Siena who has the Signum Christi in his hand. On the opposite wall San Floriano is shown on a horse (or perhaps it’s San Bovo, symbol of the peasant civilisation) which is dated August 8th 1489. The louver window found above the head of St Nicholas is worthy of mention as it is a typical feature of church buildings from the 10th and 11th century. Lastly, the terracotta floor has an interesting pattern made up of rectangular and square tiles, typical of apsidal churches.

[This article was originally published in the Visit Conegliano Valdobbiadene magazine, issue Spring Summer 2020. The magazine is available here]