Riva San Vitale Baptistery

Cities & Monuments

The Riva San Vitale Baptistery is an important religious and historic site: it's the most ancient stonework Christian monument in Switzerland. Dating back to the 5th century, it has an octagonal base and rises above what were probably foundations of a building from the Roman era. Inside, there's a rare immersion baptismal font in the shape of an octagon. Precious 12th century Romanesque frescos are visible in the recesses and on the columns. Riva San Vitale is only 5 km from Mendrisio, whose interesting historic centre deserves a visit.


The visit

The Riva San Vitale Baptistery is of fundamental importance to the history of Christianity in Switzerland. To reach it from Capolago, cross the central square and continue on the left along the street to Rancate, which will lead straight to the parish church dedicated to San Vitale. From the churchyard, simply cross the portico on the left and enter the court across the way.

Built with local stone, the baptistery remained hidden for many years. Three sides of the building were concealed by other buildings and it's only in 1919, after numerous studies and much research, that the entrance was freed allowing the first refurbishing to take place. At the exterior, some 3 meters away from the perimeter walls, it's possible to identify the layout of the so-called peribolo (square portico), originally covered by a roof surrounding it and under which the presumable baptism rites occurred. Next to the baptistery was an ancient cathedral whose traces were found inside the current parish church.

The octagonal immersion font preserved inside the parish is equipped with steps and a drain, visible under the upper monolithic tub overlaid in the 9th century. The practice of immersion baptism was abolished in the 9th and 10th centuries. The baptismal font in Arzo, set in the recess on the left of the Northern entrance, is the last one that was used for the rite.

In the semicircular recesses obtained from the thickness of the walls and on the columns, there are many traces of 12th century Romanesque frescoes, some of which have superimposed layers. The most recent ones date back to the 17th century. The floor is mostly original, composed of black and white marble tiles in geometrical inlays.

(Re-elaborated text from "Il Ticino contemplativo: il Romanico" - Ticino Turismo)


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