by Mariangela Carlessi
OLERA AND ITS CHURCHES
The village of Olera, just as the one of Brumano, is one of the oldest in lower Valle Seriana; thesevillages were placed in a strategic location that saved them from
the ferocious incursions of the bandits that ran amok in the late medieval times. Olera, placed on the right bank of the torrent Diebra, is a village with a
fascinating layout, where paths and stairways were built inside the rustic stone walls of the buildings. The townsfolk’s stone carving craftsmanship made of Olera
well known in the entire Venetian-controlled territory. Their talent did not only provided the town with well built buildings that we can still appreciate today, but also
with exceptional art pieces. An example of that is the polyptych painted by Cima da Conegliano kept in the parish church of San Bartolomeo (Saint Bartholomew), one
of the most prestigious pictorial complex in the entire province of Bergamo; but we can also find many more amazing works of the Venetian School, mostly donated
by the industrious inhabitants of Olera who moved to Venice.
In the village there are three churches, the oldest one being the one dedicated to the SS. Trinità e tutti i Santi (Holy Trinity and all the Saints), also known as
the Church of the Dead (“Chiesa dei morti”) because of the 16th century burials kept there. Built in 1296, the church was probably commissioned by the Acerbis
family, that moved to Olera from Bergamo. Inside the church there are some important pieces of art, among which: the mid 16th century statue of Saint Roch,
by Tommaso Pombioli, and another Holy Trininty and all the Saints, that dated back to 1597, by Alessandro Maganza. Also interesting is the 16th century altarpiece,
with a high relief representation of the Stoning of Saint Stephen.
In the second half of the 15th century, next to the old Church of the Dead, construction works started for the new church of San Bartolomeo Apostolo
(St. Bartholomew the Apostle) (47), which were finished in 1471. Between 1875 and 1880 the church was completely reformed according to a design by the
architect Angelo Cattò, who gave it the Neo-Gothic style it has now. He also worked on the structure, to increase the height of the existing building by adding four
new pillars in the nave; he designed two lateral chapels and a marble Gothic portal, and elongated the apse. The parish church houses many art pieces: the Descent
of the Holy Spirit, by Vittoriano Urbini (1588), a 17th century Adoration of the three Wise Men by Giuseppe Brina and the frescos by Ponziano Loverini (1880)
depicting the Burial of Jesus, the predications and St Bartholomew. The right side altar is dedicated to Blessed Frair Tommaso of Olera, represented kneeling in front
of the Holy Virgin, painted by Giacomo Gritti in 1870. The altar was recently enriched by a portrait of Friar Tommaso by Aurelio Bruni. The left altar houses an
equally beautiful and rare mid 16th century icon of Venetian-Cretan origins, depicting the “Madre di Dio della Passione” (Mother of God of Passion).
Remarkable are also the wooden furnishings, such as the confessionals and the inlaid chorus.
The third church, dedicated to San Rocco (St Roch), protector and healer of the plague, is located east to the village, along the paths that connects Olera to
Burro. Traces of this church dates back to 1486. Compact and simple in shape, the most important alteration through the years was the bell tower, built in 1929,
equipped with a 15th century bell, the oldest of the entire diocese. Inside, the church is composed by only one nave, with a raised presbytery and with an
apse decorated with a fresco of Christ Pantocrator with angels and Old Testament figures. Very interesting are also the paintings of Holy Mary with the Child, of
Saint George on a horse fighting against the dragon and Saint Roch with Saint Sebastian. The statue of Saint Roch with his faithful dog at his feet stands out in
the middle of the altar, a late 19th century work by Giuseppe Runggaldier.
Thanks to the figure of Blessed Friar Tommaso of Olera, now Olera is a well known place.
BLESSED TOMMASO FROM OLERA
Tommaso Acerbis was born in Olera at the end of 1563 from a shephered family; he himself worked as a shepherd until he was seventeen. In 1580 he asked to
become a Capuchin, entering the Convent of Santa Croce di Cittadella with the name of Friar Tommaso from Olera. On July the 5th 1584 he officially became friar.
He moved around the Venetian controlled lands, always with the same task: collecting alms. He became an apostle that, with simple but passionate words, was able
to testify the Gospel and teach the young as well as the old, the powerful as well as the poor. From the illiterate he once was, he became a refined writer, whose
work culminated in the “fuoco d’amore” (fire of love), one of Pope Giovanni XXIII favourite readings. He promoted the vocation to the consecrated life, the
construction of monasteries in Veneto. He died in Innsbruck on May 3rd 1631. His beatification process started in 1963 and he was finally consacrated in the
Cathedral of Bergamo on September 21st 2013.
THE POLYPTYCH BY CIMA FROM CONEGLIANO
The Olera Polyptych was painted in 1489 by Giovan Battista Cima from Conegliano Veneto and it is a work of amazing value, among the most remarkable of the
entire diocese. Placed against the wall of the apse, right behind the main altar in the church of San Bartolomeo, it is an oil painting on a wooden panel, made of
nine sections on two levels, held together by finely carved golden frame. It is one of the few Cima’s original work of this kind still left.
The wooden statue of Saint Bartholomew is placed in the middle of the polyptych, as the church is dedicated to him; the Virgin with the Child and the statue at
the top representing God are next to it. On the first level there are full-figure statues of Saint Sebastian, Saint Peter the Apostle, Saint John the Baptist and Saint
Roch, and on the second level there are half-busts of Saint Catherine, San Jerome, San Francis and Saint Lucy. All the statues are skilfully painted and have a
golden background, a symbol of divinity and of the light of the heaven.
The polyptych was restored by Franco Steffanoni in 1962, whereas the remarkable altarpiece was restored in 1976 by Lucia and Andrea Dori and in 2001-2002
by Roberto Buda for the wooden supports.