Basilica of St Sebastian

Within the walls of our castle, just past the old, solid entrance tower and after a short, steep climb, in an environment characterised by silence and greenery, is the Basilica of San Sebastiano, Church of the Court of the Gonzaga family of Castiglione delle Stiviere. It was San Luigi's father, Marquis Ferrante Gonzaga, who had it built in 1576. He wanted to dedicate it to St. Sebastian in thanksgiving for the escape from the plague, which was quite widespread in those years, and in memory of the birth of his third-born son Francesco. It boasts the title of minor basilica for having housed the precious relic of the Skull of St. Louis. It is certainly a precious treasure chest of memories and testimonies. The church has experienced moments of authentic splendour and intense vitality, especially when the Castle and the Fortress, home of the Gonzaga family, were inhabited.

It is easy to imagine, and this is confirmed by historians and hagiographers themselves, that Saint Louis was an assiduous visitor to the Church of San Sebastiano and that he lingered here for a long time to pray and meditate. In it, Rodolfo, who succeeded his father Ferrante in governing the fiefdom, due to the renouncement of his first-born son Louis, had Holy Mass celebrated every day, which he often attended. In 1608, again in the Church of St. Sebastian, the three granddaughters of St. Louis, Cinzia, Olimpia and Gridonia, took a vow of chastity with a first group of Castiglionese women, giving rise to the institution of the noble College of the Virgins of Jesus. When, in 1706, both the Castle and the Rocca were set on fire and razed to the ground by French troops, the slow and inexorable decline of the Church began. Fortunately, the Church survived the dramatic and total destruction, as did the Castle's entrance Tower.

It was not until 1780 that the historian Don Antonio Maria Nodari recorded a period of revival and renewed public interest in the Palatine Chapel, which was finally the focus of an initial structural renovation. On its façade, precisely on this occasion, two of the four plaques with inscriptions (difficult to read today) that adorned the base of the statue of Francesco Gonzaga, erected by the local community in Piazzetta San Sebastiano in recognition of its good governance, were walled up. In the writing on the two plaques, the civil and human qualities of the Gonzaga prince are highlighted. A further radical restoration of the church was carried out towards the end of the 19th century on behalf of the Amadei family. Another marble panel was affixed to the façade in memory and testimony of this event. More recently, the Church of San Sebastiano, which had once again fallen into decay and abandonment, under the initiative of the parish priest emeritus Don Marino Barbieri, underwent yet another restoration that brought it back to its original splendour. On this occasion, the roof was consolidated, the entire interior and exterior was painted, the lighting system was brought up to standard, a modern security system was installed, the pews and all the wooden furnishings were cleaned and tidied up: the compass, the choir loft, the pulpit, the balustrade, the doors and more.