If the Duomo is the outward face of religion in medieval Como, the Church of S. Abbondio, hidden on the edge of the old city, is its spiritual core. This church is off the beaten track, but is well worth visiting if you are interested in architecture and inclined to be moved by its austere magnificence. To be honest, it took me years to get round to visiting it. Once I did, it was unforgettable.
Unlike the Duomo this site does not close for 3 hours at lunchtime, so if you only have one day in Como it’s a good idea to programme your visit for the middle of the day. It is open from 8 am to 6 pm in the spring and summer months.
There has been a church on this site since the fifth century, when Amanzio, the third bishop of Como, brought some relics of Saints Peter and Paul back from a journey to Rome. He had to build a new church to accommodate these treasures. Abbondio was Amanzio’s successor, and was made a saint for his tireless work in establishing Christianity around the lake. In fact, there are many churches in lakeside villages dedicated to him, including one in our own village of Acquaseria. In the ninth century, the existing church was reconsecrated in honour of this local saint. It served as Como’s cathedral until the early 11th century, when the bishop moved inside the city walls to occupy the new duomo. At that point, the church of S. Abbondio was turned over to a Benedictine monastery, and the monks lost little time in rebuilding the church in the Romanesque style. This is the edifice we see today, its exterior extraordinarily plain and sober, and the the lofty interior housing a mindboggling display of medieval frescoes depicting the life of Christ. This artistic wonder rises above the apse, soaring up to the roof, and is full of a staggering freshness of colour and detail. Nobody knows for sure who the artist was, although recent studies place them between 1315 and 1324, one clue being the details in the style of dress of the characters depicted.
How to get to the Basilica of S.Abbondio on foot from the centre (10 minutes):
The church is outside the walls of the old city, near the south-western corner of the walls. These directions go from Porta Torre, where the big tower is. Walk a short way in a south-easterly direction onto the main road, Viale Lorenzo Spallino. Turn right, cross over and turn left onto Via Italia Libera. then right onto Via A.Gramsci, left onto Viale F D Roosevelt just for a few yards, and then right onto Via S.Abbondio. You will find the church at the end of the street on your right.