Sacro Monte–Orta, Italy


About 45 minutes from our hotel in Ranco on Lake Maggiore is the town of Orta, on Lake Orta. Built up in the hills above Orta is the Sacro Monte, a series of small chapels as part of a pilgrimage in homage to St. Francis of Assisi, who was really popular around this area. He was a regular guy who had a vision, eschewed fancy clothes in favor of a brown tunic with belt, and rode donkeys. He gave his all for his vision.

On the front of each small chapel was a number (#1, above, which had a diorama of St. Francis’ birth–very interesting, complete with wet nurse, midwife, and the laboring mother) and a hand directing the pilgrim to the next chapel.

Of course, we went out of order, not really reading Italian that well. It was only later that we caught on, and I’m sure it’s only because we both have advanced degrees. In all these chapels were carved wooden figures–life-sized mannequins in traditional, typical dress and posture. Some were humorous, like the children above, and some were amazingly realistic, blending well into the backdrops of the painted walls and ceilings.

Stanislao was here, 1987.

The small, mostly one-room chapels are placed throughout the woods on this hilltop, and became part of the scenery. This was begun in the 16th century, but some chapels were built as late as the 18th century.

Requisite cherubim painting on ceiling

We were prevented from touching, or entering the chapels by wrought iron gates; some of those were masterpieces in themselves.

One pilgrim that I know and love.

This chapel had lovely arches all around.

The chapels are close to each other. We read the sign outside this chapel and it talked about Francis being taken away in a fire cart. Okey dokey.

But we figured it out when we looked inside he was suspended from the ceiling with two stallions pulling a fiery chariot.

I like the way Dave framed this photo with the elegant hand just reaching into the scene. I was fascinated with the “clothing” as it seemed so vivid and so patterned and real.

Of course, not these men, but generally.

This is the scene to the side of the one above. I love the guy in red–and was trying to figure out how his stockings are held up.



The children played at the feet of the adults in the scene. We’ve noticed how often children are brought along to dinner here at the hotel, and they are expected to blend in and behave, unless of course, they’re an infant. Then all the wait staff comes over to see.

This chapel had two stories, but was closed.

It’s like he can see.


These women are mourning at Francis’ body.

This perfect little porch was added on later.

One of my favorite dioramas.


Couldn’t figure out why the man was climbing a pole, unless he wanted a better view. I think the man in the red bandanna and blue garb on the left looks like a cross-dressing pirate.



This little boy was at the gift shop with his sister–I figure one of his parents ran the thing.

Many times when you enter chapels sacred music is playing to get you in the mood not to be a dumb tourist. “The Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky Balboa soundtrack was playing here. I guess workers were around back doing some cleaning.

This was scene in front–lots of important dignitaries and the Vatican Guard (?). Although each sign had an English translation on it, some of it was garbled and didn’t often tell you what was going on. I think they were debating Francis’ ascension to sainthood here.


A lovely little scene Dave shot.

Out front of the big church was this patio overlooking the island of Orta San Giulio.

There are nine Sacro Monte in the Northern Italian region, but this is the one closest to us. They collectively are now a World Heritage site.

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