Back when we used to make a regular run from Lugano in Switzerland south to Milan, this obscure commune was a compulsory stop, if only to check out these two dudes atop the first church on the way into town. The Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles was built in 1498, a year after the Madonna appeared to a local peasant, Pedretto Morandi, and told him to get after it.
Pedretto never achieved sainthood like his fellow compulsive church builder St. Francis, but that’s not surprising. Italy is full of these voluntarily built and financed monuments to grass-roots faith.
In Saronno, that faith had to withstand two plagues, several wars and invasions, and a massive fire that burned the commune to the ground. Yet in the end, it was prosperity and not misery that put paid to the centuries of prayer. At one time, the three great churches of Saronno struggled to serve just 5,000 inhabitants. Today, in a town of 39,000, they’re mostly empty.