Via Francigena

Leg 8 - From Castell'Apertole to Vercelli

Leg 8 - From Castell'Apertole to Vercelli

Gps Track

Gps Track

  • Total Length: 28,7 km
  • Difficulty by Foot: Hard

Temporary route, due to interruption of the previous route.


The next stop is Leri, in the Vercelli countryside, one of the granges attached to the Abbey of Lucedio: the granges were agricultural organisations founded in the 12th century by Cistercian Benedictine monks, in collaboration with converts and peasants. In 1807, with the annexation of Piedmont to France, Napoleon left the estate to Prince Camillo Borghese, who in turn ceded it to a company; when this was dissolved, part of the grange was purchased by Camillo Benso di Cavour, who transformed it into a model farm with the use of avant-garde agricultural techniques. Not to be overlooked is the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on which the architect Francesco Gallo, the man who built the imposing and daring dome of the Sanctuary of Vicoforte in Mondovì, also worked.

We then come to Castelmerlino, another grange that, despite its modesty, has a small masonry church dedicated to St Peter, original for its octagonal plan and built by the architect Carlo Antonio Castelli in just one year, between 1724 and 1725: this plan can be compared to that of the nearby Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Vigne, now in a state of decay.

Darola, finally, is the grange with the largest rice-field area and has a large closed courtyard plan. Well-preserved is the entrance tower with the carriage gate and the pusterla, which originally had a drawbridge and a “day” walkway, always lowered for pedestrian passage. The 18th-century Church of San Giacomo, also built by Castelli, preserves an ancient icon of the Virgin and a graceful Nativity painted by Dominican Luigi Francesco Savoia, a painter from the second half of the last century who left many of his works at the Church of San Domenico in Turin.

A small diversions from the main itinerary leads to the Abbey of Lucedio: in 1123, on uncultivated land, some Cistercian monks from the French abbey of La Ferté settled here, and it is assumed that the place name is derived from lucus dei, meaning ‘sacred wood’. The monks made the land fertile and productive by deforesting, tilling and exploiting the abundance of water that allowed the cultivation of rice. This abbey grange gave rise to eight others: Darola, Castelmerlino, Leri, Montarucco, Montarolo, Ramezzana, Pobietto and Montonero. The 12th-century abbey complex can still be seen in several buildings, but the most significant are the Chapter House and the Bell Tower, with a quadrangular base from which emerge four octagonal sections bordered by string-course cornices with hanging arches; the original Abbey, dedicated to Santa Maria di Lucedio, was rebuilt in 1766 and from 1787 was given the title of Santissima Vergine Assunta; the so-called Chiesa del Popolo (1741), at the disposal of lay people and peasants, is still awaiting restoration.

At this point the path leads to Ronsecco, whose primitive settlement rose near the Sanctuary of the Viri Veri, was abandoned in the 12th century and rebuilt on the current site around 1660 under the episcopate of the Bishop of Vercelli Uguccione. The locality, whose toponym dates back to Roncho sicho or Ronchum sicum with the meaning of uncultivated and arid place, is today immersed in the rice-field landscape among irrigation ditches, springs and farmsteads. The Church of San Lorenzo, built in the 15th century, underwent radical restoration in 1857; the name of the aforementioned Sanctuary of the Viri Veri, erected at the end of the 16th century, presumably derives from villa vetus: the place is linked to the town’s liberation from the cholera epidemic of 1867 and the statue of the Assumption is the object of great veneration; dating back to the end of the 14th century is the presence of a castle due to the Bondonni family of Vercelli Guelphs and currently under restoration.

We come to Lignana, whose first mention dates back to 1034, while an ecclesia is mentioned as early as 1156 under the title of San Germano. In the 14th century, the town was enfeoffed to the Corradi family, who remained its undisputed lords until the mid-17th century. The castle, now used as a farm, bears witness to its prestige: the best preserved part, in late medieval form, is undoubtedly the front, characterised by a massive gate-tower, large machicolations and loopholes that were used to manoeuvre two drawbridges for the carriage gate and the pusterla. The Church of San Germano, renovated several times but still with Romanesque string-course cornices, preserves inside, among the roundels of saints in the vault, the portrait of Blessed Ardizio dei Corradi di Lignana, one of the first followers of St Francis of Assisi.

Casalrosso is a hamlet of Lignana. As early as 1348, the nearby Ecclesia de casali Rubeo – today the Church of the Holy Saviour – is reported to have been rebuilt several times until 1815, when it assumed its current state: it still preserves an interesting 17th-century pulpit.

Lastly, we come to Larizzate, once a grange and a place of defence as an outpost of the walls of Vercelli: the cylindrical towers and parts of a castle are still clearly visible today; the church is dedicated to the Santissima Vergine Assunta. From here comes a document, dated 27 August 1493, which, for the first time, reports the cultivation of rice in the Vercelli area.