Franca of Vitalta, who became a saint, was born in 1175 in Vitalta (Vernasca).
Franca, the daughter of the count and the countness of Vitalta, was born in a castle at 550 meters above sea level. When she was really young, she entered the city Benedectine monastery of Saint Siro, where she took her vows. In 1198, when the abbess Brizia died, Franca was elected to fill her place. In 1214 she followed the example of Carenzia Visconti, the founder of a female cistercian monastery on Montelana, and she became the abbess of that monastery, keeping for a while the management of Saint Siro too.
After two years inside the cloister of Montelana, it was necessary to move because of all the dangers for the young nuns, living here isolated, often facing robbery.
The nuns moved before to the cloister of Vallera and then to Pittolo, that Franca managed until her death, on the 25th April 1218. Originally her body was buried in that place and after many translations, nowadays it is placed in the church of Saint Raimondo in Piacenza.
Franca from Vitalta becomes a Saint
It seems she was proclaimed saint only verbally by Papa Gregorio X, in September 1273, and there isn’t any papal bolls to witnesses her title.
The dead body of Franca became immediately important and venerated because of the miracles she made to the nuns and other people. Even after her death she made other miracles, so many that the cloister of Saint Siro and Pittolo became destinations for pilgrimage and places of worship. The miraculous events concerned healing of blind people.
In 1949 a nun instantly healed from the the pain of her eye, while she was praying and touching the simulacrum which contained the relics of the saint.
In 1824 during the last Sunday of August, the day in which Franca was celebrated, a new sanctuary was opened near the older, in the place where Franca lived for many years.
The chapel preserves the wooden sculpture of the saint with the cistercian cloth. Not so far from it, there is a water source. According to the tradition, the water sprang out by the will of Franca and so it has healing property.
Franca is the Saint Patron of the upper Arda valley and she is celebrated on the mountain which was titled with her name (before called Montelana).
The sanctuary is surrounded by charming old beech trees; on the first and the last Sunday of August there’s an important celebration with pilgrimages and religious ceremonies. This is an important event with a big attendance of pilgrims.