Altar of the Matrons

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How to get

By car: from the A26 motorway exit at Baveno or Gravellona for Verbania. Turn right at the second traffic light along the lakeside road to Pallanza. The Church of Santo Stefano is in Piazza Rosario in the upper part of the historic centre.
By train: the nearest railway station is Verbania-Pallanza (actually in Fondotoce, some kilometres from Pallanza). You can reach Pallanza directly by bus from the station.


The church of Santo Stefano in Pallanza, of Romanesque origin, conserves one of the most ancient sacred objects in the local area: the Roman Ara delle Matrone or “Altar of the Matrons”.

The Altar is a votive cippus – a small column with an inscription dedicated to a divinity – dating from the 1st century AD. Made of local Candoglia marble (the same as was used to build Milan cathedral), it was dedicated by a freedman named Narcissus to the emperor Caesar Germanicus (Caligula), his lord and benefactor. It was walled up inside an altar in the earlier Romanesque church until the 17th century, when it was transferred to the present church. You can see it in the chapel on the left, at the base of the Communion Table.

The top part of the sides of the Altar of the Matrons is decorated with a graceful cameo of laurel festoons tied with ribbons. The front displays the scene of a sacrifice, surmounted by the only figured inscription from the Roman period found in the Verbano Cusio Ossola province. The other sides depict five female figures dancing in honour of the Matron Goddesses.

You should also look at the choir loft, decorated with musical and floral allegories, and the 1911 organ, in its superb wooden case dated 1620.