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.
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.
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.
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.