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Oropa (Biella)- Sanctuary of Oropa

Foto Sanctuary of Oropa -  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa -  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa -  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa -  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa -  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value
Show to visit in the Biella area:
Places  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value in the Biella area: Sanctuary of OropaThe Oropa Sanctuary is the largest and most important sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary not only of the Biella area, but of the entire Alps. It is located about 15 km from Biella, almost 1200m above sea level, nestled in a scenic location between the mountains over Biella and towards the plain which it overlooks.

The Oropa Sanctuary complex includes the proper sanctuary with inside of it the Old Basilica, the Sacred Mount of Oropa and the Upper Basilica, built more recently.

According to the legend, the history of the Oropa Sanctuary begins even in the fourth century, to the time of Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli and evangelizer of the area, at that time still dominated by pagan cults. In the area popular cults related to female deities were particularly popular, in various ways related to large erratic rocks present there.
The memory of these ancient cults was somehow still alive a short time ago, given that even in the first half of the twentieth century the belief was still present that contact with the large boulder partially incorporated by the ancient Basilica (Photo 6) was able to heal from pain and other illnesses.
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa
Foto Sanctuary of Oropa

The first nucleus of the sanctuary corresponds to two ancient mountain churches dating back at least to the centuries VIII-IX, the Churches of Santa Maria and of San Bartolomeo. The second one is still in existence to this day while the former was replaced by the current Old Basilica.
From the mid-fourteenth century the cult of the Virgin was associated with the so-called Black Madonna, a wooden statue in gothic style and almost life-size, carved in stone pine wood by an anonymous artist of the Aosta Valley in the thirteenth century.
It was housed in a chapel built in the ninth century and dedicated to St. Eusebius. The chapel is still present today, incorporated in the Old Basilica, behind the altar (the "Sacellum").

Since the fifteenth century, the Biella families began to build private houses in Oropa, which occasionally could accommodate the pilgrims.
The Ancient Basilica was built in the seventeenth century, following the vote made by the City of Biella to the Black Madonna in occasion of outbreak of plague of 1599.
In the Baroque era the sanctuary enjoyed a period of great architectural expansion, thanks to the protection of the House of Savoy. Famous architects were active at that time in Oropa, including Filippo Juvarra (who planned, among other things, the monumental Porta Regia of the sanctuary), Ignazio Galletti and Guarino Guarini.
Around the Ancient Basilica, which dates from the early seventeenth century, a sanctuary was built, which had work as hospice for the pilgrims.

The building of the Upper Basilica began in 1885, according to the project Ignazio Amedeo Galletti (1726-1791), developed a century earlier. When its construction was started the golden age of sanctuary was already starting to decline, it was consecrated in 1960, but it remained, in fact, unfinished, as even today many parts are still with exposed bricks.

Between 1911 and 1958 Biella and the sanctuary were connected also through a railroad. Unfortunately it was replaced by a more trivial connection via bus.

The Ancient Basilica
Photos 1-3. It was completed in 1620. Built in syenite and with plastered surfaces on the side walls, while on the facade the stone is exposed, its structure is classic and particular at the same time. Classic is its plan of a Latin cross, with a not protruding transept, and the division of the main body of the church into three naves, with aisles much lower and narrower than the central nave and separated from it by arches supported by triple columns: one square column in the center with two columns on either side of a round section partially merged with the central one.
The specific elements of the church are represented by the presence behind the altar, under the dome, of the Eusebian Chapel (photos 2-3), in practice an ancient chapel built in the ninth century to which a rich decorative frame in red and black marble was added. In the backside the rough stone structure is still visible, while inside there are precious frescoes from the fourteenth century, painted by an unknown painter called the Master of Oropa. The fresco cycle focuses on the Virgin and on some saints who had to be particularly revered in the ancient hermitage.

The position of the altar and the presence of the sacellum mean that the short vertical branch of the church does not contain, as often happens, a chorus. On the contrary it has acquired the structure and function of a large chapel, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Above the altar at the bottom of it there is a curious altarpiece with a floral theme. Above the altar a shelf baldachin. On the upper side of the walls a collection of fragments of torn frescoes (from the former church of Santa Maria?), while the lower part is covered with wooden panels carved with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin.
The church doesn't have own frescoes, although there are frescoes on the ceiling of the sacristy. The ceiling of the main nave is nevertheless decorated in blue to give an effect similar to a starry sky.
Note that the ceiling of the nave is in fact much lower than that of church (covered with "lose", granite plates typical of the area). The church building, in fact, contains, above the aisles, other spaces, including rooms for pilgrims, some of which have even a balcony.

The facade, designed by Francesco Conti, possesses the typical lines of the early Baroque, still quite sober. The richest part is represented by the portal, darker and with above it, in white stone, the royal coat of arms of the Duke Carlo Emanuele II, supported by two stone angels.
On the right edge of the facade there is a clock.
At the end of the right aisle you can admire a beautiful Last Supper of the sixteenth century by Bernardino Lanino.

The two courtyards
The majestic complex of the Oropa Sanctuary has two large courtyards, an upper one (which inclues the Old Basilica) and a lower one.
Note that in front of the sanctuary, towards the plain, there is a large lawn that allows you to fully enjoy the view towards Biella.

The lower courtyard is divided on two levels. It is home to numerous shops, bars and restaurants.

The upper courtyard, in the center of which there is the classic "Burnel" (big granite fountain with large spoons hanging from it to drink the water), is home to the offices, of some chapels, of the Museum of Treasures, containing numerous works of art and archaeological finds, and of the Historical Archives and of the Library, the latter comprising 15000 volumes, also very ancient, of religious theme, but also regarding the sanctuary and the Biella area.
The corridors furthermore serve as exhibition galleries of the many ex votos, many exquisitely popular, left by devotees over the centuries.
The different wings of both courtyards containt countless rooms of various sizes and types to give hospitality to pilgrims or simple visitors.

The lower courtyard is connected to the upper one via a grand staircase that leads to the "Porta Regia" ("Royal Door", Photo 5), so called because it bears on the pediment the emblem of King Vittorio Amedeo II. It was designed by architect Filippo Juvarra.

The Upper Basilica
(Photos 7-10) As mentioned above, it was consecrated in 1960, 75 years after the start of its contruction works. In fact it is still unfinished, given that in many parts there are still the bricks (or stones) to view.
With an octagonal floor plan, it is placed above the two courts, and separated from them by a large empty square. The most striking feature is undoubtedly represented by the enormous 80 meters high dome. This dome is visible even from the plains, and in fact it has become the distinctive element of the entire sanctuary, although it is part of it since only a relatively short time.
More closely, the New Basilica appears also characterized by a massive portico supported by colossal columns and in which there are three great bronze doors, on which the history of the Sanctuary is described.
As well as in the case of the Ancient Basilica, and even more, the interior space of the church does not match that of the building as a whole: in fact the church is fully engaged in other volumes, and from the outside you see the windows that do not give at all on the interior of the church, but on rooms arranged on various floors.
The interior of the church is octagonal. There are three chapels per side, furthermore the side of ??the entrances and, opposite thereto, a circular chapel (endowed with a secondary dome) to act as a presbytery.
The altar is surmounted by the Aerial Ciborium, by the modern Milanese artist Gio Ponti.
The New Basilica houses an interesting collection of nativity scenes from around the world, the larger ones in the crypt under it, the smaller ones in a room beside to the entrance.
The chapels are decorated with beautiful frescoes dating back probably already in the twentieth century and characterized by colors rather clear and bright. Frankly the ciborium of Gio Ponti appears completely out of place, not able to bind at all with the stateliness of the structures which contains it.

The Sacred Mountain
To the left of the monumental complex of the sanctuary there is the Sacred Mountain, recognized as World Heritage by the UNESCO and recently established Special Reserve by the Piedmont Region.
The intervention of the several communities in the Biella area was decisive for the creation, between the '600 and' 700, of the twelve chapels dedicated to the life of the Virgin and populated with polychrome terracotta statues in life size.
For a detail description, please refer to the page on the official website of the Oropa Sanctuary.

The Monumental Cemetery
It must also also be mentioned that in the immediate vicinity of the sanctuary there is a cemetery, founded in 1877 and then enlarged several times, where eminent personalities of Biella and Piedmont rest, under funerary monuments of sometimes great artistic value places in the middle of the pre-existent beechwood. In particular it deserves to be mentioned the syenite pyramid that contains the remains of Quintino Sella.
For more details, please refer to the corresponding page on the official website of the Oropa Sanctuary.

We also finally point out that the sanctuary also hosts a weather-seismic observatory founded in 1874 by the work of father Francesco Denza Barnabite of Naples and that adjacent to it there is a alpine botanical garden run by the WWF.

More photos of the Oropa Sanctuary in the section photography of this website

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value of landscape value

Santuario di Oropa Biella
Sanctuary of Oropa: Further pictures in the section Photography
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Statue of the Black Virgin in the sacellum of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Staircase and loggiato in the upper courtyard of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Upper courtyard of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Corridor of the Sanctuary of Oropa with ex voto paintings on the walls
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): Interior of the Old Church of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Last Supper by Bernardino Lanino in the Ancient Basilica of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): Upper court of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Oropa (Biella, Italy): Spring woods on the street to the Oropa Sanctuary
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): Chapel of Saint Philip in the Old Church of the Sanctuary of Oropa
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): Panorama by night from the Oropa Santuary
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): Oropa Sanctuary by night
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): View on the plane from the Oropa Santuary (Biella)
Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella, Italy): View on the plane by night from the Oropa Sanctuary (Biella)