The former church of San Nicolao is located on the edge of the historic center and can be reached by following the dense network of “contrade”. It is located at the point where the ancient road to the upper lake and then to Valtellina led into the village’s narrow streets: in that place, this location on the side of the church, was where one of the main gates to Bellano stood, while on the left side there was access to the sacristy and to the small convent that no longer exist.
The dedication to San Nicolao is due to the proximity of the Sentiero del Viandante (Wayfarer’s Path), as in the Alpine area, it was common to find buildings dedicated to the Saint in near the paths or transit routes intended as stations for wayfarers and pilgrims.
The building has suffered many events of both a historical and structural nature. We already know of its existence in 1295, the year in which, for fiscal purposes, a list was drawn up in which the existence of a convent of the Humiliati was mentioned in the place where the temple stands. This religious community prospered for many centuries in Bellano, until its suppression in 1571 ordered by Pope Pius V. From that moment on, the convent passed under the jurisdiction of the “commendatori” and then, at the end of the 18th century, it passed into the hands of private individuals, even though religious functions continued to take place in the church until the middle of the 19th century. After the church was deconsecrated, it became the warehouse of the Gavazzi silk factory, while the rest of the convent was demolished.
The facade with the main entrance and the first section of the church are an addition to the body of the early temple, and probably date back to the sixteenth century. The central part and the one at the rear, consisting of two bays, are not aligned with each other, probably due to the presence of the important road that ran along the south side. The two rooms, added over time by extending the body of the church towards the west, are introduced by a sort of decorated triumphal arch: the presence of frescoes dating back to the late fourteenth century reconfirms the building’s ancient origins, and the decorations on the west wall of the last added body, dating back to the sixteenth century, would tend to confirm that these works were still carried out at the time of the Humiliati, since figures of friars belonging to the Order can still be recognized.
The interior, currently with an exposed roof, was previously subdivided vertically into two floors, while the presbytery, raised by two steps, has retained its valuable brick cross vaulting.
A clearer understanding of the architectural development of the church can be had by analysing the outer part of the south wall, the one bordering the ancient road. This wall, in fact, narrates the succession of different building periods. It is composed of rows of stones and pebbles, mostly in an orderly fashion, interrupted by the insertion, forced and therefore posthumous, of the small portal and the two windows framed by well worked stone ashlars. Although the architectural forms, such as the use of a round arch, are exquisitely Romanesque, the techniques and elements used in the construction of the openings betray the later period in which they were opened.
Internally, although much of the decoration has been lost, some fragments of 14th century frescoes survive.
In the first arch we recognize the Redeemer, six prophets and the Annunciation, inside the niche of the left wall of the second room there is the Agnus Dei and two Saints, in the apse fragments of saints and traces of a large Crucifix. These works are some of the oldest evidence of frescoes in the Province. The grotesques and the two saints in the first room date back to the sixteenth century, while the decorations and portraits in the second are from the seventeenth century. Most of the decorations and the altarpiece mentioned in the pastoral visits that followed on from one another in time, however, have not survived to the present day.
The building is currently owned by the town council and is used for various cultural initiatives.