by Father Fortunato Turrini
Back in 1208, Zanebello took off on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. He was a parish priest from Cles, the main town of the Val di Non (Non Valley), also known as Nonstal/Nonsberg in German and Anaunia in Latin. Many pilgrims, both men and women, set off before and after Zanebello on a long, arduous journey to Santiago in order to pay tribute to S. James the Greater, whose worship was widespread in Trentino and South Tyrol at the time. The hangman legend from the life of Saint James (San Giacomo, in Italian), had been popular in the area since the 12th century thanks to the Codex Calixtinus, well before Jacopo da Varagine wrote about it in his Legenda Aurea in the second half of the 13th century.
The large number of churches dedicated to S. James in the region (a total of 46) bears witness to the importance of his worship for the local people. Among them, the church of Grissiano, located on the road that connected Trento to the Val di Non and consecrated to Saint James in 1142 by the Bishop of Trento, Alemanno. Building a church was another way to take a solemn vow or repent for their sins in the name of St. James, for those who could not afford to go on a pilgrimage to Spain. More evidence to his popularity in the area is offered by the conservation of his relics at the Museo Diocesano Tridentino in Trento, namely a finger of St. James mysteriously found by a canon of the city. And, of course, there was the pilgrimage to Spain, made by the devotees themselves or by someone else on their behalf in exchange for money. From the Val di Non, ancient Roman roads allowed the pilgrims to reach either Saints Peter and Paul tombs in Rome or St. James’s shrine in Spain.
The busiest roads led north from the Val di Non through the Val d’Ultimo and the Palade Pass (at approximately 1600 mmasl) to the Val Venosta. Pilgrims would then walk along the Inn River to Lake Constance and the Shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln. From there they would finally reach the Rhône Valley and continue on the French routes. Other roads led south to the Val Giudicarie and often reached Lake Garda, where the pilgrims could catch a boat and rest from walking. From the lake it was easy to get to the Via Francigena, cross the Alps and then follow one of the French routes converging in Santiago.
In the Val di Non there were many hospices for pilgrims on their way to Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem. Hero monks and hermits offered the pilgrims shelter and spiritual relief. On the north-eastern part of the valley were: S. Maria in Senale, S. Bartolomeo in Romeno, S. Gallo in Cagnò, S. Biagio in Romallo and S. Giustina in Dermulo. On the west and south were: S. Emerenziana in Tuenno, S. Spirito in Pavillo, S. Maria Coronata in Cunevo, S. Pancrazio in Campodenno, S. Angelo in Quetta and S. Cristoforo in La Rocchetta.
Along the roads dotted with hospices, stood the churches dedicated to S. James. Other churches displayed frescos of him (as the one found on the façade of S. Antonio abate in Romallo, from the 14th century) or indirectly (the martyrs of Anaunia portrayed as Jacobean pilgrims in frescos adorning the churches of Dres and Pavillo). Frescos were a homage paid by the artists to the pilgrims they often saw walking on the road.
Frescos also tell the story of a group of householders from Fondo, a village in the upper Val di Non. They made a vow to go on pilgrimage to Santiago should their families survive a plague epidemic that may have struck the area in 1482. When they returned to Fondo, they had the frescos painted on the walls of their houses as a votive offer.
The Val di Non is so rich in traces of popular devotion to St. James, that the ancient pilgrimage tradition revives today in the Jacopo d’Anaunia Path (Cammino Jacopeo d’Anaunia). It is 150 kilometers long and is divided in seven stages. It begins at the Basilica dei Santi Martiri in Sanzeno and ends at the Sanctuary of S. Romedio the hermit.
The Jacopo d’Anaunia Path reaches quite a few of the important landmarks of the ancient routes: S. Maria in Senale (Unsere Liebe Frau in Walde) in the mixed-language part of the valley; Rumo and Bresimo with their magnificent medieval churches; the lower Val di Sole with the hamlet of S. Giacomo; Cles, the main town of the valley, with Caltron and Dres; Tassullo, Nanno, Tuenno, Terres, Flavon, Cunevo and Lover with churches and retreats consecrated to important Saints of the Middle Ages. The Path then passes the villages on the left bank of the stream Noce: Ton, Dardine and the church of S. Marcello, Torra, Segno (hometown of Eusebio Francesco Chini, also known as Father Kino, explorer and missionary in Mexico), Taio, Coredo and finally S. Romedio.
The Path is marked with the pilgrim yellow shell and signposts. Several hotels, guest houses and restaurants are conveniently located along the roads, ready to welcome the walking pilgrims and support them along the way.