It is so long ago that the enormous bulk of the Lechi Villa made us feel uneasy, and dependent on the local inhabitants. The farm workers’ subjection to Counts Emili, the feudatories, vanished into thin air. In 1396, the Bishop Tommaso Visconti had given them feudal power; they lived north of the village, in a tower block built by Filippino degli Emili, on a man-made hill.
These two symbols of feudal power, one opposite the other, are used nowadays as pacific purposes.
A river flows between them, it is the Naviglio. Berardo Maggi, Bishop and Lord of the city, wanted a waterway that could arrive until the river Oglio, to irrigate the fields and to ship timber. But it was just an ambition; those waters (named Serioletta at that time) could irrigate at the latest the fields. Always during the XVII century, the Bishop had another unrealizable dream: to collect from his vassals the lands’ rent and gratuity. The lands belonged actually to the Diocesan curia: at the end of the X century, the Count of Lecco’s widow had given Montirone to the Bishop.
On the other hand, in the fourteenth century businesses were good: the Bishop collected conspicuous sums from the Gastald of Montirone (the official in charge of the portions of the demesne). The money came from the sales of mortar and bricks, bulls, cereals, wool, lard and cheese. Afterwards, the Curia subleased the lands to the noble families of Fregosi, Malvezzi and Arrigoni.
Since we talked about business, it seems that only noble feudatories lived in Montirone; they lived actually in the city with their families, and let the massari (farmers who rent the lands) and the tenant-farmers manage their properties (more than 11 million square yards). But neither massari nor tenant-farmers could yield those lands by themselves. Who could, then? Here comes finally the “people” of Montirone; those who worked the land, those who were serfs, day labourers and farm workers, and who made the primary community come true. We do not know their names, but we learned about their effort. Or maybe we can just imagine it.
While in the near village, such as Ghedi, San Zeno, Bagnolo, the communes were born with the Statutes, farmers in Montirone went on with their work, and left the decisions to feudatories, to the Bishop and to landowners, maybe because of the small number of the population, or maybe because people were not interested in self-government. The “Piccola Storia di Montirone” (Short history of Montirone) is wrong when it claims that “Even Montirone has its Chancellor (a secretary), three Mayors (for free), an Andadore (messenger from the municipality), the Massaro (a tax collector)” The “Catastico” writes, on the other hand, that “In Montirone there is only a Massaro, chosen at an auction, and people do not pay taxes; they pay only thirty lire, because this is all they can give, …” There was such indifference that our forefathers preferred being serfs instead of raising their heads, and did not decide about their future.
Counts Emili, who bossed around, could also choose along with landowners the Rector of the Church; sometimes they showed themselves generous with some donations. The population, however, didn’t think them to be benefactors.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Bishop of Brescia gave family Lechi the land south of Naviglio; they bought the villa of the Crotta and, in ten years, as they entrusted Architect Antonio Turbino the renovations, transformed it into the wonderful Lechi Palace. The “Piccola Storia di Montirone” claims that, between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, “Two important events happened in Montirone: in 1799 the Austro-Russian, at war with the French, pillaged Lechi’s Villa. In 1805 the Emperor and King of Italy Napoleon Bonaparte is the guest of his Generals and Counts Giuseppe, Teodoro and Angelo Lechi.
What could otherwise the Austro-Russian find in poor people’s house? Where else could Napoleon stay, if not at the most important palace of the village? Maybe the only important event is that the Lechi were serving the ideas of Freedom, Fraternity and Equality supported by the French Revolution.
Lechi’s presence, however, was not as oppressive as in the ancient regime or as during the Emili time, that finished at the end of the Nineteenth century. With the Unification of Italy and the coming of the new Kingdom, most people’s economic situation didn’t change: sharecroppers, waged, farm workers and day labourers; they all scowled at owners or tenant farmers, to win the struggle for their families’ survive. Neither fascism could give answers to the farmers’ needs, even if the “Story of Montirone”, when it talks about Mussolini, claims that “He reorganizes the State and goes on, without obstacles, with public education, social assistance, work regulations and industrial development” The fights for food lasted until the exhaustion of the waged, who had previously given up because of industrialization’s advance.
Nowadays, on the bank of river Naviglio things have changed: new or renovated houses embellish the landscape, new villages replaced the nostalgic farmhouses; instead of working in the fields, people work in workshops or in service industry. There are new unthinkable challenges for Montirone and its people. They have to face them with the awareness of the past, even if it was not so brilliant.