Historic militias of the Blenio Valley


Category:
Social practices
Canton:

Description

Every year, the historic militias of Leontica, Aquila and Ponto Valentino take part in the festivals of Saint John the Baptist on 24 June, Our Lady of the Rosary on the first Sunday in July and Our Lady of Carmel on the third Sunday in July. The members of the Leontica and Aquila militias wear uniforms that have only recently been updated and are modelled on those of the Swiss troops who served under Napoleon Bonaparte. The militia uniforms of Ponto Valentino, meanwhile, hark back to the time just before the First World War. The origins of this custom lie in an oath sworn by soldiers from the Blenio Valley in November 1812 during the bloody Battle of Berezina in Russia. A large Swiss contingent fought in the battle. The soldiers from Ticino swore that, should they escape the slaughter and return home in one piece, they would establish a permanent militia to last through the years. The militia was to accompany the church procession in the old uniforms and stand guard over the statue of the Virgin Mary or the respective saint each time. The militias, together with the local brotherhoods, have formed the backdrop to these three festivals that bring the region’s residents together for two centuries. Many people from the Blenio Valley living throughout the canton, across Switzerland and indeed around the world return home specially for these events.

Image gallery

  • Leontica: drummers in the foreground and flag-bearers © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members donning their uniforms © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members during Sunday mass © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members during Sunday mass © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members in the procession along the village’s main street together with the Brotherhood of Saint Rosario © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: a salute is fired to honour the dead © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Leontica: before the celebrations, the youngest member of the militia hands the bayonet to the commander © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: procession through the village streets © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: two sappers standing to attention in the foreground © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: a salute is fired to honour the dead © Giuliano Giulini, 2007
  • Ponto Valentino: group of drummers © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: group of sappers in the foreground © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia members standing to attention in the square in front of Saint Martin’s church © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia in the procession, followed by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Carmel © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia marching through the village streets with two flag-bearers in the foreground © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Leontica: drummers in the foreground and flag-bearers © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members donning their uniforms © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members during Sunday mass © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members during Sunday mass © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: militia members in the procession along the village’s main street together with the Brotherhood of Saint Rosario © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Aquila: a salute is fired to honour the dead © Roberto Pellegrini, 2011
  • Leontica: before the celebrations, the youngest member of the militia hands the bayonet to the commander © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: procession through the village streets © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: two sappers standing to attention in the foreground © Letizia Gianora, 2011
  • Leontica: a salute is fired to honour the dead © Giuliano Giulini, 2007
  • Ponto Valentino: group of drummers © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: group of sappers in the foreground © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia members standing to attention in the square in front of Saint Martin’s church © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia in the procession, followed by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Carmel © Ely Riva, 2003
  • Ponto Valentino: militia marching through the village streets with two flag-bearers in the foreground © Ely Riva, 2003

References and documentation

Publications
  • Davide Adamoli e Damiano Robbiani (a cura di): Milizie bleniesi. Milizie storiche della valle di Blenio. Tra storia e memoria. Lottigna, 2012

  • Gaetano Beretta: I ticinesi nella campagna di Russia (1812). Bellinzona, 1937

  • Ariano Trevisan: Ritorno alle origini. Dalla Beresina al rinnovo della Milizia storica di Leontica. 1812 – 2007 (video). 2007

  • RSI LA1: Servizio “Pietre vive” dedicato alla Milizia Aquilese della Madonna. In: Strada regina. Il il settimanale cattolico alla TV svizzera, puntata 269 trasmessa il 15 gennaio 2011 (video)

  • Mario Vicari: Documenti orali della Svizzera italiana. Valle di Blenio. Seconda parte. Ed. Ufficio cantonale dei musei. Bellinzona, 1995

Documentation