What it is and where it is
Slightly set back and hidden from the Basilica of San Vittore and the Campanile, it boasts of being the city's oldest monument. It is the oldest witness to the living of the people of Varese and stands in all its authority as city patriarch in its compact gabled facade. Concealed by the grandeur of the buildings that surround it, it oversees the slow passage of time. It is a National Monument but it is still a private place, like its city, and that is precisely why its discovery creates greater excitement and wonder.
Why it is special
The result of centuries of remodeling, it boasts an ancient history: together with the Basilica and the Bell Tower, the Baptistery completes the city's main religious hub. Walking past it, one has the feeling of being watched and protected. In its regular style, it instills a sense of confidence, almost enticing the visitor to discover its interior with curiosity and interest, ready to be enraptured. Astonishment explodes when observing the brightly colored frescoes of different styles and eras, two ancient baptismal fonts above each other, a women's gallery, and architecture in which everything is in perfect harmony.
Not to be missed
Of great fascination is the history of the three entrances, two of which are walled up and only the main one open. Until the 18th century there were numerous confraternities in Varese, and at the head of the Baptistery were two: that of Santa Marta and that of the Blessed Sacrament. The former was reserved for the side entrance located on the small square at the side of the building, while the latter entered from the stairs leading to the women's gallery. Inside the building, a partition, which has been lost, divided the presbyterial area from the hall intended to receive devotees and catechumens who entered from the main entrance.
A bit of history
Of early medieval origin and built on an area inhabited since the Iron Age, it was rebuilt between the 12th and 13th centuries. It has a gabled facade with the entrance flanked by two single-lancet windows and surmounted by a painted lunette and oculus. At the top stands a statue of the Baptist while laterally one of the two walled portals can be recognized. Inside are preserved frescoes by the Master of the Fissiraga Tomb such as the Theory of Apostles and Saints, Our Lady of Mercy and the Crucifixion, along with others by unknown artists, and on the altar is the fresco of the Madonna.
Upon entering and looking up to the vault that separates the two areas, one finds the symbol of the Perabò House, an important Varese family that contributed to the construction of the Baptistery, as can be seen in the fresco depicting the patrons, kneeling and devoted to Christ on the Cross. The octagonal baptismal font, currently superimposed on the older 7th-8th century immersion font, was located in one corner of the Baptistery but was moved for pastoral expediency since the font must be placed in one place, which, in San Giovanni in Varese, is in the center of the hall.