We are in the seventh century, and Agilulfo and Teodolinda are the enlightened rulers of a large part of Italy. He was the first Catholic king, a pacifier of northern Italy, she was a good friend of Pope Gregorio Magno.
The Lombards had come to the Italian Peninsula as conquerors in the earlier century. With their guidance, they organized and strengthened their power over the territory. They secured control of the Apennine passes that connected the capital of the Kingdom, Pavia, to the Ligurian-Tyrrhenian area. This essential control was carried out without weapons and by establishing strategic monasteries on the major transit routes, which were also fundamental centers of irradiation of the Christian religion.
In 612, the Irish monk Columbanus arrived in Italy, heading to Rome after long wandering through central and northern Europe.
He was born around 540 in the Irish Leinster region and was educated at the important monastic center of Bangor. At the age of forty, he felt his mission was to leave his island and promote the Gospel in Gaul, southern Germany, and Switzerland. Along his way, the cenobi – monasteries flourished in Annegray, Fontaine, Luxeuil, and San Gallo, where his “Rule” was established.
In northern Italy, the story of one of the most important religious and cultural institutions of the Middle Ages started from the encounter between the Colombian evangelizing thrust and the foresight of Christian sovereigns. Around the year 613, the Monastery of Bobbio was funded. The chosen site was a hill town in the Trebbia valley, along the Caminus Ianuae, the ancient road to Genoa. A small village, Bobbio, which until then was a center of salt pans exploitation assigned to the Longobard leader Sundrarit, which destiny was about to change forever.
Columban died shortly after, right in Bobbio, in the year 615, on November 23rd. His successors carried on the founder’s mission, making the monastery more significant.
Monks from all over Europe in Bobbio worked to pass on the fundamentals of our culture.
The centuries before the year 1000 were the glorious season of Bobbio monasticism. The possessions of the cenobio extended to an ever greater extent along the Trebbia basin and in the neighboring valleys. Monks from Europe worked in the scriptorium to preserve and pass on knowledge. They produced splendid bright pages to which we owe the survival and the handing down of the fundamental pillars of our culture.
The Crusades came, and they also left their mark on Bobbio. A rare 12th-century mosaic floor emerged below the present Basilica di San Columban. Biblical knights confronting each other, evoking bloody battles of distant lands, are depicted in it. At the same time, the eternal cyclical time is represented by the works of the Months associated with the zodiacal symbols.
Meanwhile, the monastery gradually lost its importance and centrality, and usurpers seized its assets. Finally, in the area, the Malaspina family took power. They built the fourteenth-century castle overlooking the village. The Veronese-origin lineage Dal Verme obtained Bobbio’s fief in the fifteenth century.
The story of evangelization goes on the long bridge of Bobbio, thanks to the devil!
Everything between the stone houses along the village’s alleys tells today the story of Colombano, who rests in the crypt of the Basilica. Multitudes of pilgrims, walking the streets of Europe on his tracks, did not fail to stop here to pray on the Saint’s grave and leave sacred relics from the Holy Land by it. These are now kept in the Abbey Museum, with testimonies of late antique and early medieval sculptures.
A perpetual memory of Columban is the famous Humpback Bridge, there between the river’s banks for at least a millennium.
A legend tells the bridge arose in one night. Driven by the need to go beyond the Trebbia to bring the Gospel message, the Saint tricked no one less than the devil. He obtained that Satan would build the bridge rapidly in exchange for the soul of the first living being who would cross the bridge. So the bridge was built; it had eleven irregular arches due to the different heights of the devils who lent their backs. Then the Irish monk let an animal cross the bridge – a bear, or perhaps a dog -win over the devil, who waited in vain to seize a soul.