The church of Santo Stefano dominates the top of the Volpino hills, situated in a strategic position to control the Oglio valley. It can be reached via a steep narrow slope, ending in a short set of steps or a more comfortable narrow road (via Sabotino (Sabotino street)) bypassing the centre.
This small churchyard is rendered even narrower by the extension of the church; at the end of the 19th Century (1891), the building almost doubled in size, however still in keeping with its antique structures. The 17th Century portal in Sarnico grey sandstone was restored and adapted. A church of Santo Stefano has been documented in Volpino castle since 1132 and when demolished, to make way for a bigger cemetery in 1927, numerous early medieval graves were discovered. It only took on the role of parish church in 1580 replacing Sant’Antonio (St. Anthony) of Corti.
The current building was opened to worship in 1756 and a settling of artistic works and decorations appears; there are furniture and paintings from the old parish church restored and new architectural and church furniture expressly constructed from the second half of the 18th Century to the Thirties of the 20th Century. The vaults present frescoes created by Angelo and Gennaro Tognali of Vione in 1924.
The sanctuary with its beautiful architectural adornments in 18th Century plaster houses nearly all the same furniture as that of the previous church, fruit of an embellishment campaign initiated in the last ten years of the 17th Century. This space is dominated by the wooden altarpiece that could be the work of the Fantoni workshop (negotiations from 1692 have been preserved, not followed by any other documents): this splendid frame in painted and gilded wood consists of an architectural structure (two Solomonic columns set on large shelves supporting a split gable) housing, on the gable, the monumental figure of Faith in a very complex and powerful serpentine pose. The saints, John the Baptist and Jervis (patron saint of a chapel situated outside Volpino castle, documented in 1132), are on the shelves to the sides. In the centre an altarpiece, painted in 1593 by the painter Pietro Ronzelli from Bergamo, representing the Madonna and Child and Saints Stephen, patron saint of the church and Jerome; the latter was probably the protector of the donor of the altarpiece, belonging to the Gaioncelli family, whose coat of arms stands out on the bottom to the right accompanied by the letters H.P.G. The merchant was probably Girolamo, son of the late Girolamo Gaioncelli documented in Lovere in 1570. Ronzelli (circa 1560-circa 1621), very active for the churches of Bergamo, demonstrates his debt with the painting by Cavagna and Moroni and submission to the decrees of the Counterreformation. However, the luxuriant landscape and sumptuous chromaticism of the saints’ garments in this altarpiece make this painting stand out from the more rigid altarpieces of Bergamo.
The marble furniture, including the steps with inlaid rise, repository for holy oils and altar frontal are also noteworthy. They were created by the marble worker Giacomo Selva of Riva di Solto, presumably on Andrea Fantoni’s design (1699).
To the left of the sanctuary, the Rosary chapel, with a modest 19th Century altar, houses a 17th Century altarpiece with the Madonna and Child and Saints Domenico, Catherine and Stephen, surrounded by canvases of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Take a look at the splendid lake landscape capturing the contours of the Lovere coastline during a thunderstorm with Volpino and the other uplands fortified and dotted with churches.
The other altars of the church date back to the end of the 19th Century: the sober classicist altars of the Sacred Heart and Madonna of Lourdes, and altar of Saint Joseph, of polite 18th Century taste.
For more information:
M. CAMPAGNONI, Terra di confine: Costa Volpino 2011 , pp. 398-408.
PAGNONI L., Chiese parrocchiali bergamasche, 1979 , p. 414.