Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Joyful Mysteries at the Sacro Monte di Varese

Among the countless pilgrimage shrines up and down the Italian peninsula, there is a famous group of nine sites in the northern provinces of Lombardy and the Piedmont (three in the former, six in the latter) known as the “Sacri Monti - Sacred Mountains.” Each of these consists of a group of chapels arranged around a particular theme: at Belmonte, the theme is the Way of the Cross, at Orta, the life of St Francis, etc. Four of them (Varese, Oropa, Ossuccio and Crea) have the Mysteries of the Rosary as their theme, with the addition in some cases of other episodes from the Virgin Mary’s life. Inside each chapel, one of the sacred episodes is represented by a group of life-sized painted statues, and frescoes on the walls; some of these are quite small and simple, others very elaborate indeed. The pilgrims say the Rosary or do the Stations while passing from chapel to chapel, walking up the mountain through a beautiful park, until they reach the main church or sanctuary at the top. (The chapels, by the way, are so called because of their architectural structure, but they don’t have altars and are not set up for the celebration of Mass.)

Original Sin, the first chapel of the Sacro Monte di Varallo.
Ecce Homo in the thirty-third chapel.
During the pilgrimage I recently participated in with the Schola Sainte-Cécile, we visited two of the Sacri Monti, at Varallo in Piedmont, and Varese in Lombardy. The shrine in Varallo is the most elaborate of them all, with 44 chapels representing the life of Christ from the Annunciation to His burial, and the Fall of Man (seen above) as a prelude. There wasn’t time to visit more than a handful of them, although in compensation, we did have a splendid Mass in the main sanctuary. At Varese, however, we visited each of the fifteen chapels, and said the Mystery represented therein as we walked to the next one; today, I will post the photos of the chapels of the Joyful Mysteries, and the Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries tomorrow and Thurday. The chapels were built between 1604 and 1623, and no, wiseacres, they haven’t added any new ones.

Each group of mysteries is preceded by a gate; that of the Joyful Mysteries is dedicated to the Virgin Mary Herself. Under the statue is an inscription with the words of Ecclesiasticus 24, 26, which the liturgy often reads as if they were spoken by Her, “Come over to me, all ye that desire me.”
The Annunciation
The cleaning staff had left their supplies inside, making it look as if the Angel Gabriel had surprised the Blessed Mother in the middle of getting ready for dinner guests. This was not really very dignified, and in any case, the light inside was very bad for photography.


The Visitation
“And She entered into the house of Zachary, and greeted Elizabeth.”
Also very bad lighting inside, so I took this image from Wikipedia. (Photo by Mattana, CC BY-SA 3.0
The Birth of Christ

The Presentation of Christ and Purification of the Virgin Mary
The exterior of this chapel seems to have been deliberately made more elaborate than the others, since it represents the Temple of Jerusalem.


We didn’t sing the whole Rosary, but we did sing the last Ave of several of the Mysteries, and the Gloria Patri as well. The French traditionally say “priez pour nous pauvres pêcheurs - pray for us poor sinners” in the Ave Maria.
The Finding in the Temple

Looking back down on the Presentation.

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