Sunday, November 04, 2018

St Charles’ Final Retreat: The Monte Sacro di Varallo

In the Breviary lessons for the feast of St Charles Borromeo, whose feast is today, it is stated that towards the end of his life, “he withdrew to the solitude of Monte Varallo, where the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion (inter alia) are represented in life-size sculptures; and there for some days, lived a life made harsh by voluntary penances, but sweetened by meditation on Christ’s sufferings.” This was in October of 1584; he then returned to Milan, and died there on the night between the 3rd and 4th of November.
A representation of St Charles praying at the chapel of Christ’s Agony in the Garden.
Monte Varallo is one of the group of nine pilgrimage shrines in the northern Italian provinces of Lombardy and the Piedmont (three in the former, six in the latter) known as the “Sacri Monti - Sacred Mountains.” It is also the most elaborate, with 44 chapels representing the life of Christ from the Annunciation to His burial, and the Fall of Man as a prelude. 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 large indeed. Here are some photos taken by Nicola, which get us up to the Scala Sancta, the stairs that Christ climbed on the way to his trial before Pilate. A second set will be posted later in the week. (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.)

The Fall of Man
The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Arrival of the Three Kings
The Adoration of the Shepherds
The Flight into Egypt
The Baptism of Christ
The Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2, 1-12)
The Transfiguration
The Last Supper
The Agony in the Garden
Christ before Caiphas
The Repentence of St Peter
Christ before Herod
The Flagellation
The Crowning with Thorns
The Scala Sancta

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