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Orta San Giulio (Novara): Sacro Monte of Orta

Foto Sacro Monte of Orta
Foto Sacro Monte of Orta
Foto Sacro Monte of Orta
Foto Sacro Monte of Orta
Foto Sacro Monte of Orta
Show an other place around Milan worth a visit:
Places  of historical value  of artistic value  of landscape value around Milan (Italy): Sacro Monte of OrtaThe Sacro Monte of Orta occupies part of the hilly plateau which lies at the base of the Orta peninsula. Together with the Basilica of San Giulio on the island of the same name in the center of Lake Orta, it is the most important expression of art in the area.

It arose following a resolution taken in 1583 by the Community of Orta to build a convent for the Capuchin friars at the ancient Church of San Nicolao (Fig. 2) (to be completely renovated for the occasion) and, around it, of a complex of chapels dedicated to the life of St. Francis.
The works were financed by the whole community, both noble and ordinary citizens, and also by emigrated artisans and by the beggars of the Capuchins themselves.

In 1590 work began for the construction of the convent (completed in 1594) and for the renewal of the Church of San Nicolao (finished then only in 1607), in 1591 that for the construction of the first three chapels.

The design of the Capuchin convent, of the new church of San Nicolao and of most of the chapels (initially planned thirty-two, actually built twenty), of the artistic well and of the road network are due to Father Cleto da Castelletto Ticino, a Capuchin architect pupil of Pellegrino Tibaldi and admirer of Vignola. Father Cleto personally directed the works from 1590 to 1616, a period during which twelve of the twenty chapels were built.
Later architects, who in any case did not deviate substantially from the architectural layout of Father Cleto, superintended at the later chapels.

The prevailing style is therefore Renaissance, with elements from both the early Renaissance and the late Renaissance, with also Baroque elements in the more recent chapels. There are both rectangular chapels, square chapels and round chapels. Some chapels are very small and simple (as you would expect from a chapel) (like the chapel V, others are much larger and more complex (like the chapel VI, which summarizes the typical structure of many churches in the area, or the chapel VIII, to all effects a small church with a circular plan, or the chapel XX, also larger image, very impressive).
According to some, the most architecturally successful chapel is the chapel XV, with a circular plan and a double-curved roof, like that of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Piazza in Busto Arsizio.

Each chapel houses a polychrome terracotta sculptural group representing a particular episode in the life of St. Francis. The main creators of these statues (but not the only ones) were Cristoforo Prestinari and Dionigi Bussola.
In total there are 376 statues, almost all life-size. All the scenes are characterized by a marked realism accompanied by a certain theatricality. The aim was in fact to transmit the evangelical message to a popular public through emotional involvement as well.

The pictorial decorations on the internal surfaces of the chapels are the background to the sculptural compositions and as in them a narrative and realistic tone prevails, although the artistic level varies depending on the artist. The represented artists include high-level personalities, including, in particular but not exclusively, the Fiamminghini (the brothers Giovanni Battista and Giovanni Mauro Della Rovere), the brothers Carlo Francesco and Giuseppe Nuvolone, Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli known as Morazzone, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Antonio M. Crespi known as the Crespino, Stefano Maria Legnani known as il Legnanino.

Other works of art
Access to the Sacro Monte di Orta is through an arch of entrance of composite order, dominated by an architrave and a tympanum with a statue of Saint Francis bearing the Cross built in 1666 by Dionigi Bussola. Immediately after the entrance there is a picturesque fountain (Fig. 1), while between the chapels XII and the last three there is an octagonal stone well in the center of an also octagonal aedicule.
We must not forget the wrought iron gates in many chapels, also of significant artistic value.

The last chapel was never completed and is now used as an exhibition space for artistic or photographic exhibitions.
It should be emphasized that the Sacred Mount of Orta is also valuable from the landscape point of view, with the chapels harmoniously grafted into the woods that occupies the hill and various belvederes from which you can enjoy beautiful views.


  • I: Birth of St. Francis. Started in 1592. The facade is from 1849, by Paolo Rivolta.

  • II: The crucifix of the Church of San Damiano di Assisi speaks to St. Francis. Built between 1606 and 1608. Architecture by Father Cleto, sculptures by Bussola and frescoes by the Fiamminghini. The Oratory of Our Lady of Sorrows ("dell'Addolorata") was added to the original construction in 1680, with frescoes by Francesco Gianoli, 1681.

  • III: Saint Francis renounces worldly goods in front of the Bishop of Assisi. Built between 1596 and 1599. Architecture of Father Cleto, sculptures of the Prestinari, frescoes of the Fiamminghini.

  • IV: Saint Francis, while hearing Mass, receives confirmation of his evangelical mission. Completed in 1612. Architecture of Father Cleto, sculptures of the Prestinari (1616), frescoes of the Fiamminghini.

  • V: Dressing of the first two followers of St. Francis. Built in 1610. Architecture of Father Cleto, sculptures of the Prestinari (1616), frescoes of the Fiamminghini.

  • VI: The friars leave on a mission. Built in the years 1614-1615. Architecture of Father Cleto, Sculptures of the Prestinari (choir) and of the Bussola (nave), frescoes of the Fiamminghini.

  • VII: Saint Francis and his 12 apostles obtain from Innocent III the oral approval of the rule. Built in the years 1619-1622. Sculptures by the Righi brothers (Pope and cardinals) and by the Bussola (friars), frescoes by Antonio M. Crespi.

  • VIII: Saint Francis flies in the sky on a chariot of fire. Begun in 1624. Sculptures by Giacomo Fermi and the Righi brothers. Frescoes (1640) by Cristoforo da Roccapietra.

  • IX: Dressing of Santa Chiara. Completed in 1630. Sculptures by the Prestinari (Saint Francis and Santa Chiara), by the Bussola and by the Righi brothers. Frescoes by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone.

  • X: Victory of St. Francis on the temptations. Built in the years 1640 - 1650. Statues of the Bussola, frescoes by the brothers Carlo Francesco and Giuseppe Nuvolone.

  • XI: Jesus and Mary grant the indulgence to Saint Francis in ecstasy in the little chapel of the Porziuncola of Assisi. 1607-1612. Architecture of Father Cleto. Sculptures of the Prestinari. The frescoes are the work of Morazzone who finished them in 1616.

  • XII: Divine approval of the Rule of St. Francis. 1592-1598. Architecture of Father Cleto. Sculptures by the Prestinari. Frescoes redone in 1772 by Cantalupi.

  • XIII: Saint Francis for humility and to prevent the excesses of the carnival is led half-naked through the streets of Assisi. Second half of the seventeenth century. Architecture of the Grandi brothers of Varese. Sculptures mostly of Bosnati, some of the Falconi. Frescoes by Federico Bianchi.

  • XIV: Saint Francis before the Sultan of Egypt. Built in 1757. The sculptures are the work of the Lombard artist Carlo Beretta while the frescoes are by Federico Ferrari.

  • XV (Fig. 3): Saint Francis receives the stigmata on Mount Verna. 1591-1597. Masterpiece of the architecture of Father Cleto. The statues are the work of Cristoforo Prestinari. The frescoes were completely redone at the end of the eighteenth century by the painter Riccardo Donino (Fig. 5).

  • XVI: Return of St. Francis, seriously ill, to the Porziuncola in Assisi. Statues of Dionigi Bussola and eighteenth-century frescoes made by Stefano Maria Legnani known as il Legnanino.

  • XVII: Death of Saint Francis. Built in the mid-1600s, it contains statues by Dionigi Bussola 1661-1665. The facade was renovated by the architect Paolo Rivolta in 1850. The frescoes were made by the brothers Carlo Francesco and Giuseppe Nuvolone in the years 1660-1662 and completed by Giovanni Battisti Grandi in 1690.

  • XVIII: Pope Nicholas III venerates the tomb of St. Francis. 1591-1624. Architecture of Father Cleto. Designed to form a complex evoking the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. Sculptures of the Bussola. Frescoes by B, or G. F. Monti.

  • XIX: The crowd rushes to the miraculous sepulcher of St. Francis. 1591-1670. Sculptures of the Bosnati and the Bussola. Frescoes by Busca.

  • XX (Fig. grande): Canonization of St. Francis. 1591-1670. Sculptures of Bussola. Frescoes by Busca.

  • Unfinished chapel: Started in 1798 and never finished. It had to be dedicated to all creatures. Architecture of the Santini di Lagna.

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

Via Sacro Monte, 28016, Orta San Giulio, NO
Further pictures of Sacro Monte di Orta in the section Photography
Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy): Miasino seen from the last chapel of the Sacro Monte di Orta
Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy): Frescoed ceiling of the Chapel I of the Sacro Monte of Orta
Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy): Interior of the Chapel VIII of the Sacro Monte of Orta
Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy): Interior of the Chapel XX of the Sacro Monte of Orta
Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy): Ceiling of the Chapel XV of the Sacro Monte of Orta