In Italy they have a tradition which involves the building of the so-called Sacro-Monte(Sacred Mountain) places in the old places of pilgrimage or on the sites famous for their religious miracles. Lombardy holds nine of these places, and one of the most popular and beautiful of them is Sacro-Monte di Varese.
The most well-known peculiarity of this Sacro-Monte is the pilgrim road devoted to the Mystery of Rosary. It’s a 2 kilometer long Sacred Way with 14 chapels along, each representing one of the stages of Jesus Christ’s life. On the days of special holidays lots of believers from the nearby villages and even from other parts of the country come here to walk up this road and pray near every chapel watching scenes with human-size terracotta statues inside them. In the end of this long winding way towards the peak of Orona hill there is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Monte with the solar clock built in far 1474.
Near the main entrance to the church you can see the statue of the Pope John Paul II, who came here in 1984 and walked the whole Sacred Way like an ordinary pilgrim. The bronze statue of the Pope is surrounded by 5 sheep (one of which has 5 hooves, and you can’t but find which one!).
The very first building constructed on the Orona hill was the chapel with Madonna image built by Saint Abrose, the bishop of Milan, in the 4th century. With the basilica of the 15th century, a monastery was founded there by blessed Giuliana of Verghera and Caterina of Pallanza.
Since that time the monastery is still there with Suore Romite – Nuns Hermits. They live in seclusion and those pilgrims present at the Mass can’t even see them, as there are special rooms under the ceiling inside the church where nuns can pray without being disturbed by curious glances. After a woman chooses to become a hermit she can’t be visited even by her parents and she’s not permitted to call them. Only one of nuns can go to the town from time to time to buy goods. The hermits like their refuge for being away from vain cities, high above the lakes and as close to the heaven as possible.
All tourists and pilgrims who come to Sacro-Monte di Varese can feel like being on the top of the world. When the weather is clear, from the observation ground you can see distant towns situated on the banks of lakes from one side, and Alpine mountains from other side – with the naked eye. Some of them are on the Italian territory and other – already across the boarder in Switzerland!
From Varese: By Car: county road to Campo dei Fiori By bus: local line C On foot: along the "Via Sacra" from location "First Chapel" Funicular: only Sundays and holidays: from location "First Chapel", is Vellone-Santa Maria del Monte. | From Milan: By car: motorway A8 Milan-Varese-Toce, exit Varese, follow the tourist signs indicating the Sacred Mountain By train: FF.SS .: line Treviglio-Milan-Porto Ceresio, Varese stop; Railways Trenord: line Milan Cadorna North-North Laveno Mombello, stop Varese