The existence of three hermit settlements, consisting of six grottoes built into the rock, has been discovered in the Comune of Tignale. ( San Giorgio in Varolo, Campione , Valle del San Michele) The dating of these varies (based on the information available) between the end of ancient times and the modern era.
The most important site, without doubt, is that of San Giorgio in Varolo , because of an imposing second phase with frescoes, the dating of which suggests it to be within the first half of the eleventh century.
SAN GIORGIO IN VAROLO (Saint George in Varolo) Literary sources and the scarce but very relevant documentary evidence affirm that the complex, consisting of the church of San Giorgio and the system of cells underneath, had been important for centuries. The results of archaeological surveys have confirmed this and allowed us to further date this activity as extending from the early Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. The documentary evidence about the Mediaeval phase of the church of San Giorgio, located within the parish of Tignale, and attached to the Diocese of Trent until 1785, are all indirect and unproven. The attestation provided by the presence of St. George’s oratory in the list of property and chapels in the bull issued in 1186 in favour of the parish by Pope Urbano III, cannot be accepted dogmatically, even if it seems plausible, since this list of landed possessions and chapels is perhaps a later interpolation. A letter of 1750, in which the father-guardian Ludiovico Maria Guadagni confirmed to the Bishop of Trent the exemption of San Giorgio from pastoral visits, proves that the church belonged to the conventual friars of San Francesco in Gargnano “ for more than 500 years”.
Certainly in the fifteenth century the hermitage was a settlement of Franciscan friars, as demonstrated by a dispute about alms between Veronese and Brescian friars. It is more difficult to place the hermitage of San Giorgio in the history of the first example of the religious movement of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Garda area, about which there are uncertainties, documentary gaps and legendary mystifications.
According to Franciscan sources, Francis arrived in the Garda area from Verona in 1220, on his return from the Holy Land. He is said to have received, either as a gift or having bought from Biemino of Manerba , a house or a piece of land on the Brescian side of the lake, to build a hermitage for friars. This first settlement has been identified as being on the Isle of Garda, but other sources demonstrate unequivocally the pre-existence or the supremacy of the convent in Gargnano over that of the Isle of Garda. In fact, the convent in Gargnano, until its dissolution in 1769, held a letter written by Bonaventura of Bagnoregio in 1266, in which the minister-general of the Order confirmed the licence already granted by St. Francis to the friars who lived in a place near the Brescian coast of the lake, recognizing a sort of primogeniture of the community. THE SITE The hermitage located south of the port of Tignale was drastically altered in 1929-31 with the construction of a bridge of the road along the lake, the “Gardesana”.
However the structures described by Silvano Catteneo in 1554 are still recognizable: some of the caves were walled-in and in those days used as bedrooms, cellar, kitchen. A space between these and the lake was at that time occupied by a very convenient courtyard with a small garden of citrus fruits. Another cave, higher up, was reached using a staircase of fifty steps. Four of these cells have remained almost intact.
Even higher there are what remains of the church, corresponding to the presbytery. The main part of this structure relates to three main periods: the oldest to the early Middle Ages, the second to about the year one thousand, the third to between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Very little of the pictorial decoration of the chapel has survived due to acts of vandalism and other illegal interventions. Extracts from the book “ Insediamenti eremetici” by Gian Pietro Brogiolo.