Following the traces of the Good Pope

Did you know that one of the most beloved Popes of the 1900s, John XXIII, was from Bergamo?

The author of the very important encyclical Pacem in Terris is originally from Sotto il Monte, a village a few kilometres from Bergamo, where it is possible to retrace the places where he grew up and began his vocation.

Let’s try to trace an itinerary to discover this fascinating character: the starting point can only be his birthplace, the farmhouse where the Roncalli family lived. Here you breathe an air of other times and you can touch the extreme simplicity and poverty in which this family lived. 

In the courtyard, there is a complex of statues that depict the Pope blessing some peasants. Going upstairs, there is the room where Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII, was born on 25 November 1881: here you can still see his parents’ bed, a chest of drawers and a picture of Our Lady.

The route continues towards the Church of Santa Maria in Brusicco, where the Pope was baptised, where he received his first communion and where he celebrated his first priestly mass on August 15, 1904. Here we can admire the baptistery and the tombstone of his tomb in the crypt of the Vatican Basilica.

Still on foot, we reach Ca’ Maitino, the place where the first house was built by the Roncalli family in the fifteenth century when they moved to Sotto il Monte: the Pope used it as a residence for the summer holidays both as a Bishop and as a Patriarch. Today it is a house-museum where many memories are gathered, such as the altar where he celebrated mass in the Vatican, the bed where he died and many of the gifts he received from all over the world.

Near the house stands the Tower of San Giovanni, dating back to before the year 1000: with a square plan, it is 17 metres high and is an excellent example of Lombard Romanesque art. Next to it, the first parish church dedicated to St. John the Baptist was built and consecrated on May 4, 1356, then demolished in 1904: the material was used to build the new parish church, consecrated on September 21, 1929 by the then apostolic visitor, Bishop Angelo Roncalli. Here, every Sunday at 4.00pm, you can attend the pilgrims’ mass, which ends with the procession and prayer to the statue of St. John XXIII.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Peace stands next to the parish church, blessed in 1976 and dedicated to St. Mary Queen of Peace. The particularity consists of the altar: it comes from an early Christian sarcophagus from the basilica that Constantine had built in Rome in honour of St. Peter.

Last stop in Sotto il Monte is the Garden of Peace: a path that perfectly concludes the visit leaving us time to get in touch with the Pope’s spirituality. On the ground, we find six brass strips where some sentences by John XXIII are engraved that introduce us to the six cardinal virtues. Also in the Garden, there is the crypt Oboedientia et Pax which contains the personal crucifix of Pope John and the cast of his face and his hand in gilded bronze, made by the master Giacomo Manzù.

After a stop for lunch, at Agritourism Cavril or at Restaurant Vitigno, take the car and head for the Abbey of Sant’Egidio in Fontanella: founded around 1000 years ago by the Cluniac monks, it is in Romanesque style and is an important place of worship.


Useful info – Info point Sotto il Monte

Where to eat

Agritourism Cavril

Casa Clelia

To visit in the surroundings

Abbey of Sant’Egidio in Fontanella

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