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The church is rigorously oriented towards the equinoctial east in observance of the most ancient tradition.  The facade  it is impressive and harmonious. It is not difficult to grasp, from the first glance, the extraordinary sense of balance originating from the geometric rigor which inspires the whole and the individual architectural parts. Pilasters that suggest the distribution of the internal space, the rose window and the side rosettes, the hanging arches that run along the entire cornice and which constitute the only decorative element of the side walls refer to the typical style of the churches of the lake and even earlier to the Romanesque style of the 11th and 12th centuries. At the top of the pilasters there are statuettes of angels that belonged to the primitive church. Note the particular creasing of the three portals culminating in lunettes.


The interior immediately reveals the antiquity of the church in the basilica's architectural layout. The liturgical hall,  with three naves, it is divided by simple columns in ordinary masonry with five spans with round arches with barrel vaults for the central nave and cross vaults for the lateral ones. The large and unitary fresco and tromp d'oil decorative apparatus that covers the walls of the entire presbytery, the apse and the two triumphal arches makes the room particularly enchanting. The light that filters from the single lancet windows of the aisles and from the mullioned windows of the deep splayed side altars, creates a play of light and shadow that helps the faithful in the climate of meditation and prayer as well as highlighting details that only an attentive and curious visitor can grasp.

THE MAJOR ALTAR,  with sinuous eighteenth-century lines in black Varenna marble and inlaid with other polychrome marbles, it dominates the central nave. Of the same style is an ancient sink in the sacristy and the balustrades that delimit the side altars and the baptistery on which it is possible to observe the offerer's coat of arms. 

THE FRESCOES OF THE PRESBYTERY , by an unknown hand, refer to the Baroque style and are all made with the fresco and tromp d'oil technique. On the walls the biblical episode of the dream of Jacob's ladder and Jacob's fight with the angel, on the barrel vault San Bernardino in the glory of Paradise enriched by decorative elements of fruits with festoons of leaves and branches on a background in polychrome imitation marble found in the light thanks to the recent restoration. On the walls of the apsidal basin in the center of San Bernardino flanked by representations of the theological virtues.

. The fresco of the elliptical vault of the apse, which overlooks a precious walnut choir that runs along the entire apsidal basin, shows figures of angels in adoration of the Dove of the Holy Spirit. Also on the walls of the presbytery it is worth noting the particular finishing of the cornice and the pilasters, which differs from that of the apse area which was certainly made in a later period following a probable enlargement of the church to the east. The splendid fresco with a fake marble balcony that decorates the culminating part of the apsidal basin deserves particular attention. A magnificent example of tromp d'oil decoration.


THE TRIUMPHAL ARCH ,  realized with the raising of the internal heights of the hall and the extension towards the west of the central nave and the new construction of the aisles at the end of the nineteenth century, it shows us a precious fresco depicting the "Christ in Glory" attributed to Tagliaferri and a written, unfortunately incomplete, certifying the date and probably the clients of this extension.


Among the figures of saints (including St. Peter)  present there is the Pontiff of the time, Leo XIII. From the same period the second triumphal arch with angels in adoration of the cross; particular, in addition to the elegant  festoon of branches and leaves with fruits, the central "cloud" finish of the arch.

On the altar at the head of the LEFT SIDE NAVE  we admire a statue of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary. Particular are the small squares that run along the sides of the niche depicting the joyful mysteries of  Rosary (left side), painful (lower side) and glorious (right side).   THE RIGHT ALTAR is dedicated to St. Joseph.  It does not present any particular architectural value except the wooden statue of the Saint with the Child.

In a niche in the left aisle  the BAPTISMAL SOURCE is located, with a beautiful monolithic basin elegantly modeled in a bowl surmounted by a precious bronze lid, the work of the Talamonese sculptor Roberto Bricalli, depicting the baptism of the Baptist and Jesus with the Twelve. Behind the tub an artistic and precious walnut ciborium. In this baptismal font, on 22 August 1939, the servant of God Sister Maria Laura Mainetti received baptism for which the cause of beatification is in progress.

THE ORGAN  almost certainly belonging to the primitive church, remodeled by the Milanese Marelli organ factory after the expansion at the end of the nineteenth century, it is located above the main entrance.

In 2007 the entire area of the presbytery underwent an important conservative restoration with cleaning of the entire decorated surface, allowing the original shades and chromatic relationships to be brought to light by removing the incongruous repaintings carried out on the original decorations over the centuries. Walking along the internal perimeter it is possible to identify different points of stratigraphic investigation. This investigation has made it possible to know the historical-constructive and artistic evolution of the building, as well as to prepare the way for a continuation of the restoration work started which will surely reserve numerous surprises and will restore light and splendor to the original work created by our people over the centuries, more diverse people but nevertheless made compact by a common faith.


The name "Vilarico" appears for the first time in a 12th document (1154). The etymology is of Gallo-Roman origin and indicates an agricultural land with forests, meadows, fields, manor houses and cottages. In 1239 some documents speak of the existence of a water mill located in Villatico. After the flood of 1496 that destroyed the town of San Giorgio (the current Colico Piano) Villatico became the largest inhabited center in the Colichese area. The provost church of San Bernardino stands in the center of the town. The parish was built around 1500. There are no certain dates relating to the construction of a first temple which was to be dedicated to Saints Fabiano and Sebastian. At the end of the thirteenth century there was certainly a primitive church as in Villatico, as in San Giorgio and in the mountain Fontanedo, religious service was ensured.  Only towards the end of the 15th century. the church assumed the title of San Bernardino, the holy Sienese preacher who had crossed Italy on foot, also touching the soil of Villatico during his journey to Valtellina, recalling the people to the cult of Jesus which he summarized in the acronym IHS  "Iesus Hominun Salvator"  (Jesus savior of men). This building, over the centuries, played a role not only religious. In fact, important civil events took place in the square in front of it. One in particular is to be remembered. On January 2, 1536, the heads of the families met to choose the representatives of the community to be sent to Milan to swear an oath to the new emperor Charles V. A plaque placed on the outer wall of what is now the winter chapel reads like this  “Respect this square, o Colico, once the sepulcher of your fathers”.  It reminds us that until the early nineteenth century, the fenced land on the south side was used as a cemetery. A delicate and strong message at the same time. A tree that grows and has its roots in the earth and in history, that of Villatico.

Texts and research by Branchini Mauro 

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