The first historical document indicating the presence of a church in the valley, called the Orgials, is an act of agreement on the borders of Vinadio and Isola, drawn up on 23 September 1307, which names “the hospice of S. Maria di Brasca” . It was a small chapel flanked by poor locals for the hospitality of travelers and pilgrims. In a document dated 21 February 1447, it appears that the hospice was administered by the parish priest of Vinadio with four councilors, two of whom were elected by the municipality. One can note the importance both civil and religious that the hospice played, given the composition of the administrative body; it was, in fact, a sacred place, for the reception of all the pilgrims, and at the same time necessary for the economic development of the commerce of the place. The most ancient testimonies on the life of the hospice of S. Maria attested the presence of hermits who dedicated themselves to the service of travelers.
With the development of the church in the sanctuary, the administration signed a convention with a stable custodian called “Randiere”. His duties were as follows:
– live in the sanctuary throughout the year;
– take care of building maintenance;
– give food to travelers and accompany them on a stretch of road in case of bad weather;
– rearrange the road and the plains;
– ring the bell at Ave Maria and in case of bad weather to orient the travelers; provide the hay on which the pilgrims could sleep;
– provide meals for priests and administrators on holidays.
A document of 1443, for the first time, attests the new title of the church called from now on “S. Anna”. The ancient alpine hospice was changing physiognomy becoming a characteristic sanctuary. The cult of St. Anne and St. Joachim had spread in the West after the Crusades and to give strength to the new devotion also on the spot the popular tradition resorted to an alleged apparition of St. Anne to a shepherdess, Anna Bagnis, who it would have happened on a rock among the pastures upstream of the church. In every ancient legend there is always a fund of truth!
It is still possible today to reach the so-called “Roccia dell’Apparizione”, a few hundred meters away from the Sanctuary, where the statues of St. Anne with Mary and the shepherdess kneeling in prayer facing them are placed.
With the passing of time, around the 16th century, the church was more and more acquiring its function as a sanctuary, since it was no longer just a place of passage for merchants, but it was becoming a place of prayer and devotion, a destination for pilgrims of devotees pilgrims.
The rebuilding of the altar dates back to this period and the purchase of a painting on a wooden table depicting the saint, unfortunately lost with the French Revolution.
In 1619 the church succeeded in obtaining a relic of Saint Anne, which is still preserved in the silver arm that is exhibited in the church, near the altar.
The most significant stage in the development of the sanctuary was the construction of the new church, the current one, in 1680-81, with the animation of Don G. B. Floris parish priest of Vinadio, helped by the Municipality and by the pilgrims. The seventeenth-century church was built slightly further downstream of the ancient chapel. There were already thousands of pilgrims at the time. The increasing fame of the sanctuary was abruptly interrupted for some years with the French Revolution, a period when the church was also sacked, and then resumed in the nineteenth century with the influx of many faithful.
Meanwhile they continued to build new rooms for travelers, such as stables, barns and a chamber dating back to the mid-1700s. At the beginning of 1800, work began on the construction of the porticoes in front of the church, which were completed in 1822, with the realization of an indoor ring for processions and novenas.
In the meantime, it was also necessary to expand and refurbish the mule track, to allow even the vehicles with wheels to arrive up there.
In the mid-1800s, construction began on a building parallel to the church, connected to it by a portico, to accommodate pilgrims and service personnel.
The vault was built only in 1870, instead of the original plank destroyed by a fire. In the following years, based on a draft by Ing. Alessandro Arnaud, of 1881, the building has taken on its current form with the reconstruction of the façade and the bell tower.
Being a border site, the place was frequently used, and not only during the war, by soldiers, to build trenches and military forts. Even the road was built starting from 1924 for military purposes, in addition to a cableway that connected Pratolungo to the Colle della Lombarda.
After the wars, finally the buildings, once built with the aim of destroying the man, have been gradually restored, this time with the aim of benefiting the man, starting from the old hospice, continuing with the military structure “Saint Joachim” and gradually all the barracks, thanks to the brilliant intuition of the current Rector of the Sanctuary, don Giorgio Pepino, who spent most of his life and energy for the recovery of these buildings and for the rebirth of the Sanctuary.
The last works date back to last summer, with the total renovation of the building “Saint Joachim” (now also repainted outside), with the arrangement of the kitchen (completely modern and innovative), the dining rooms and especially the rooms, which are equipped with heating.
The crowd of pilgrims and tourists on the rise in the last post-war decades made the church insufficient for the most solemn celebrations. To this end, in 1971-72 the cloister was reorganized between the church and the old hospice, making it suitable for celebrations. On the ground floor of the hospice, the chapel of the confessions was formed, to offer the suitable recollection climate, which was completed in 2000 with the creation of the chapel of adoration, where the SS Sacrament is exposed every day.
THE CHURCH TODAY
The current sacred building is the second dedicated to St. Anne. Built in 1680, it has three naves, with a wooden floor rising up the slope of the rock below.
The central nave extends into the presbytery closed by large gates, with the Vinadio coat of arms on top. On the front of the presbytery stand out the sides of the nineteenth-century statue of St. Anne with Mary and the seventeenth-century arm of the saint.
The current marble high altar dates back to 1960, while ten years later the new embossed copper canteen was set up for the people. The two side altars are dedicated to Saint Joachim and the Madonna della Neve. The walls are adorned with numerous ex-votos that testify to the gratitude of generations of pilgrims.