Sacro Monte (Sacred Mountain) in Orta San Giulio.

The Sacred Mount of Orta

The Sacri Monti (Sacred Mounts) are typical of the Lake District area of NW Italy, and people would walk them as if in a pilgrimage. From the boards at the beginning of the trail comes the following information: Orta, the small capital of the Cusio area, is at the foot of the promontory peninsula that juts out from the eastern hills of romantic lake Cusius (Cusio in Italian); today the lake is also (and better) known as Lake Orta (Lago dOrta). With the luminous natural beauty that surrounds this small town, the origins of the name are not clear: it may equally derive from the Celtic Horta, or from the Latin root Hortus, meaning enclosed (or walled) garden. The sacred mount of Orta, in the highest part of the peninsula, is a monumantal complex of twenty-one churches and chapels and nine hundred frescoes; three hundred and sixty statues, and the main church of Saints Nicholas and Francis, which sits at the top of the hill. This is also the arrival point of the devotional journey; in the church sanctuary, a Pieta of Swiss-German school, sculpted in cherry wood, has been venerated for about a thousand year.

Culture, Deviotion, History

And more: In every culture and religious expression man has dicovered and felt the sacredness of mountains, and in them he projects his irrepressible need to transcend. In order to unnderstand and savour a sacred mountain, however, it is necessary to enter in the fascinating mystery of its creation, without which the sacred mountain would be reduced to a simple panoramic place, a dark wood, a sparkling reality, and it would have nothing to say to the contemporary man. The creation of the Sacred Mount in Orta was wished by the villagers of Orta in 1583; saint Charles Borromeo suggested the theme; Father Cleto of Castelletto Ticino, a Capuchin friar and architect, planned it. The generosity of a Vallombrosa Abbot, Amico Cannobio, the aid of many noble families, the people of Orta, and much begging by the Capuchin friars, meant that the undertaking of the Sacred Mount could start in 1591; its building, in successive phases, lasted until as late as 1795, when the whole enterprise was finally made possible. Over the mount, in 21 stations, Saint Francis tells us about 21 episodes of his life; he relates the mystery of redemption, illustrated in the main Church-sanctuary at the top and heart of the mount itself. These events in the life of Francis are excerpts from the work by Friar Bartolomeo da Pisa, De Conformitate (1385).

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