The Origins of the ‘Pieve’ (old Italian parish)The Pieve church of St. John the Baptist in Canale d’Agordo is the place where Albino Luciani completed his baptismal rituals, after he was given baptism at home by the hands of Maria Fiocco, his midwife. On 19 October 1912 he was taken to the holy font where Achille Ronzon, the chaplain, completed the service by proxy of Giovanni Battista Zanetti, the archpriest of Canale d’Agordo. In this church, little Albino grew up and took part into catechism. He was an altar boy from the age of five.
He got the sacraments of First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation in here. Besides, he celebrated his first mass on 8 July 1935 in this church, too. When he was named chaplain in Canale d’Agordo from July to December 1935, he regularly taught catechism, confessed children, celebrated masses at the high altar and at the side altar of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes and he even played the organ when the organist was absent. He very often came back to this church in his life until 1978. He got there to celebrate his ordination as a bishop in January 1959. When he was ordained Patriarch of Venice in February 1970, he returned to the Pieve church for the Lent Sermon in March 1978.
The Church of St. John the Baptist is very old. It was probably built between the 13th and the 14th centuries. The first paper quoting it, dates back to November 1361. Since its origins it had been chaplaincy of the Pieve of Agordo and it belonged to its Archdiaconate, along with the very old church of St. Simon in Vallada Agordina, a National monument two kilometres far away from Canale d’Agordo. It has been mentioned since 1185 and offers a marvellous cycle of frescos by Paris Bordon (1549).
Towards the 13th century – when the religious centre started to move towards Canale, where there was a considerable ironworking out of the mines in the Garés valley – the two churches shared an only chaplain. Despite this fact, the priest was frequently absent because of various difficulties (bad weather conditions, the river Biois in flood, which blocked the access to the homonymous valley and what is more, the priest was often called to Agordo any time the Archdeacon needed him). That is why people started to need strongly a priest living in loco.
For this reason, Giorgio from Bamberg (Bavaria), chaplain of St. Simon and Canale, went to Rome on foot in 1430 hoping to get the permission from the pope to build a parish church in Canale, but he did not succeed as he died during his long journey. It was only on 4 May 1456 that the Sovereign Pontiff Callisto III decreed that the chapel of St. John the Baptist in Canale could become the main parish church. But the decree became effective only on 3 September 1458 because of the hindrances set by the Archdiaconate of Agordo. In this way, the Church of St. John the Baptist became the place where the believers from the Bióis valley came and received the sacraments, buried their dead (except for the inhabitants of Vallada and those behind the Col di Frena who went on burying their dead at San Simón), listened to the Sunday mass and took part into the solemn ceremonies.
The holy building underwent a complete enlargement towards 1450; the high altar and the side ones of the B.V. dei Battuti (Blessed Virgin of the Beaten) as well as the altar of St. Sebastian were consecrated on 28 July 1472 by Pietro Barozzi, Bishop of Belluno. The church had an only nave with visible trusses. The choir was completely painted and lit by four windows, three windows in the apse and one towards midday. On the southern external wall, the bell tower rose and on the ‘meadow of St. John’ there was the parvis with the cemetery. In 1567-68 the side aisles were built in the shape of chapels communicating one with the other and about fifty years later the choir was renovated and other works were carried out. A big German Fluegelaltar (polyptich) of Gothic style enriched by many sculptures dominated the apse: in the midst was the Blessed Virgin with her son on her knees, on her right there was St. John the Baptist, on her left was St Simon, and above the Virgin’s head a nimbus of Cherubs; at the top an architectural crowning represented God’s Crucifixion. Two slamming stiles closed the door jamb: images of St Lawrence, St Sebastian, St Nicolas and St Martin were carved on the right, whereas the left stile had carvings of St Michael, St Anthony, St Rocco and an unknown saint. On the pedestal St Juliana and St Catherine were portrayed. In 1613 Bishop Lollino ordered the manufacturing of a tabernacle and asked to put it on the high altar to place the Blessed Sacrament inside it.
The Church had nine windows then: three windows were in the presbytery and the other ones were along the walls; at the top, in the middle nave which kept its wooden ceiling, there were six small rose windows. The floor was made of wooden boards until 1686 when the building was renovated and completed and the floor was made of stone slabs. In front of the high door, there was a vestibule or portico. Five side altars, nearly all of the same shape with a sculptured reredos which enclosed a painting in the middle, decorated the inside of the temple. From the side to the north, the altars of the Blessed Virgin of the Beaten, St Nicolas, St Lucy (to which St Anthony of Padua was joined in 1675) stretched out. Sideways to the south there was the altar of St Sebastian and the altar of the blessed Rosary, consecrated by Bishop Giovanni Delfino on 4 September 1626.
On 29 August 1741, the church was damaged by a fire. It was renovated during the two following years. The altars of St Sebastian and St Nicolas changed their titles respectively into the altar of Corpus Domini (built in 1766 and now at the small church in Valt) and the altar of the Purging Souls. The latter had two caryatids by Giovanni Marchiori: Time and Death, (now kept in a chapel of the church). In 1740 the cusp of the bell tower got its current shape.” (cf F. Tamis: Storia dell’ Agordino, vol. 11 pages 138-139).
In 1859 Rev. Agostino Costantini, the archpriest, decided to renovate the church. So he asked the intervention of Giuseppe Segusini, an architect from Feltre. Segusini planned the façade of the church which now has three naves in neoclassic style. On the façade – financed by the lawyer Giovanni Battista Zannini – an earthenware medallion by Valentino Panciera Besarel is set. It represents the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. The bell tower– 36m high and dating back to the 14th century – had five bells, which were melted after World War I in consequence of the Austrian requisition of 8 April 1918. On that date, the old sacred bronzes were dismantled and melted to build cannon.
This is the inside of the church nowadays: at one’s back, on the Singing Gallery, there is the organ by Gaetano Callido dating back to 1801 (about 800 pipes and 19 registers). On the right there is the baptismal stone font with the wooden pyramid by Amedeo Da Pos (1933), a sculptor from Carfón di Canale. The statue (substituting the one by Marchiòri) is by Tito Dell’Osbel from La Valle Agordina. In this baptistery, besides Albino Luciani, Father Felice Cappello S.J. from Caviola, the famous international jurist, whose beatification process started in 1988, Giovanni Marchiori, the sculptor, the painter Giuseppe Zais, the farmer poet Valerio Da Pos and many other artists were baptized. Going on one meets the altar of the Purging Souls with an altar-piece inspired from the Purgatory by Tintoretto. The altar keeps an old tabernacle on Reposition by the school of Giovanni Auregne (1640). The elegant walnut pulpit dates back to 1841. Sideways there is the chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary (ex-sacristy).
The statue of St Antony placed in front of the right column of the triumphal arch is still by Amedeo Da Pos. The presbytery opens with the stately high altar containing an altar-piece representing St John the Baptist “vox clamantis in the desert” probably by Antonio Longo (painted between 1808 and 1820). Above the altar-piece you can see Maria Regina, St Peter and St Paul. The two paintings placed laterally represent the birth and the martyrdom of St John the Baptist: they are copies painted in 1930 by the students of Istituto di Belle Arti of Florence and by the firm Alinari. The walnut benches of the choir date back to the period of renovation by Segusini (1861). Of considerable artistic value is the tabernacle by Andrea Brustolon (1696). On it there are: Jesus Christ, St Simon, St Lawrence, the Deposition (on the small door) and a nimbus of angles. During that century it was made higher by the sculptor Amedeo Da Pos who sculpted the inferior part to insert the present golden doorlet. The altar table, replacing the original one in stone and gesso, was carried out in 1940 and consecrated on 18 April 1941.
Going backwards, from the left, one can see the beautiful crucifix by Giovanni Marchiori (18th century) renovated by Benedetto Da Pos (19th century), father of the artist Amedeo. Then there is the new sacristy (19th century), the altar of the Madonna, whose frame and tabernacle are still by A. Da Pos (the statue of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes was bought in 1900, as a memento of the Holy Year, by Rev. Giovanni Battista Zanetti, the archpriest) along with the statues of St Rita and St Agnes (1928), which come from the School of Val Gardena. Continuing one’s way one can see the altar of St Lucy and in the end the statue of Pope John Paul I made by the sculptor Riccardo Cenedése from Vittorio Veneto (1982).
Of considerable interest is the altar towards the people by Dante Murer Moro, sculptor from Falcade (1930-2009). It was made on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’ s visit to Canale (1979): it is a brief history of Albino Luciani’ s life and it points out the most important moments.
The Stations of the Cross by Valentino Rovisi from Moéna (18th century) and the two paintings from the Tyrolese school above the side doors representing St Joseph’s death and the Flagellation of Christ (18th century) testify the intense relationship between Canale d’Agordo, its valley and nearby Tyrol.
After the destruction of the bells by the German soldiers on 8 April 1918, the new bells by the firm Colbachini from Padova, rang for the first time in 1920 and since then have beaten the rhythm of the village life. These were the bells young Albino Luciani heard.