( Santa)Franca of Vitalta, who later became saint, was born in 1175 in Vitalta (Vernasca).
Franca, the daughter of the count and the countness of Vitalta, was born inside of a perched castle at 550 meters above sea level. When she was still 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 of living inside of the cloister of Montelana, it was necessary to move. The decision was taken after considering all the dangers the young nuns could have there: being isolated, often facing robbery and all the difficulties for the supplies.
The nuns moved before to the cloister of Vallera and then to Pittolo, that Franca managed until her death, on the 25th April 1218. In the same place the body of Franca was buried and after many translations, nowadays it is placed inside of the church of the Benedectine cloister of Saint Raimondo in Piacenza.
Franca from Vitalta becomes Saint
It seems she was proclaimed saint only verbally by Papa Gregorio X, in September 1273, but any papal bolls witnesses this title.
The dead body of Franca became immediately important and venerated because of her many miracles. When she was still alive, she made many miracles to her nuns and the lay people. Even after her death she made other miracles, so many that the cloister of Saint Siro and Pittolo became pilgrimage destinations 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.
During the last Sunday of August in 1824, Franca’s celebration day, which reminds her presence on the mountain, a new sanctuary was opened, near the older; where, according to the tradition, Franca lived for many years and where some ruins were later found.
The chapel preserves the wooden sculpture of the saint with the cistercian cloth. Not so far from it, there is a water source, which sprang out by the will of Franca and which gave her healing property.
Franca is the Saint Patron of the upper Arda valley and since many centuries she is celebrated on the mountain, which was titled with her name (before called Montelana) on the beautiful plain at 1300 meters above the sea level.
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.