Italy is a popular European destination because of its rich cultural heritage. Varese is a city located northwest of Milan that you may not have ever heard of. It is home to Sacro Monte di Varese, literally meaning ‘Sacred Mount of Varese.
This article will make it clear that you know everything you need before you visit the Sacro Monte.
- 1 About Sacro Monte di Varese
- 2 How to get to Sacro Monte di Varese
- 3 It is worth it!
- 4 The 14 chapels
- 5 After climbing Sacro Monte di Varese: Santa Maria del Monte
About Sacro Monte di Varese
Sacro Monte di Varese is located a few kilometers from Varese in Campo dei Fiori National Park, the ‘Field of Flowers.
It is one of the many Northern Italian pilgrimage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is part of a network that includes nine Sacri Monti located in Piedmont and Lombardy, which were created during the 16th- and 17th centuries.
The Sacro Monte includes the Holy Road, the Sanctuary, and the medieval village Santa Maria del Monte. The Holy Road, a cobblestone pathway of approximately 2 km (1.2 miles), is lined with 14 chapels that rise up to the village. The Sanctuary (15th chapel), dedicated to the Virgin Mary, ends the Holy Road.
This climb is not for the weak of heart. You will gain approximately 300m elevation over the two-kilometre route. Although it may not seem like much, I can guarantee you that you will feel the climb in your calves next day, just as we did during our week at Lake Maggiore.
How to get to Sacro Monte di Varese
How to get to Varese
If you are interested in visiting the Sacro Monte I assume that you know how to get there. For your safety, here are some links:
- You can get to Varese with a car: Use the A8 motorway if coming from Milan, or the SS394 if coming from the northeastern region of Lago Maggiore. Swiss travelers can exit the highway at Mendrisio to cross the border via the customs at Stabio-Gaggiolo.
- You can fly to Varese from Milano Malpensa, Milano Linate (LIN), and Lugano.
- Varese can be reached by train: Varese is accessible by train from major cities throughout Lombardy via the Servizio Ferroviario Regionale lines.
From downtown Varese, you can get to Sacro Monte
It’s only 5km (just over 3 mi) from Varese to reach Sacro Monte di Varese. The climb is moderately strenuous so I wouldn’t recommend walking to the beginning of Sacro Monte.
I would recommend driving along Viale Padre G. B. Aguggiari, or taking the bus line C (Bizzozero – Sacro Monte) starting at a stop called “Varese, Moro fri. INPS (see this route on Google Maps).
It is worth it!
Sacro Monte di Varese has a rich history but retains much its historical beauty. Santa Maria del Monte, a place of worship for Mary the Virgin, was established in the 15th century. We know from ancient documents that there was a statue of Virgin Mary and a chapel on the top of Sacro Monte di Varese dating back to the 4th Century.
Giovanni Battista Naguggiari, a monk, instigated the construction of Via Sacra (a wide cobbled path). The monk convinced the abbess to build 14 chapels along the path that Catholics considered sacred. These chapels were to be dedicated the Mysteries and Rosary. The chapels were built by some of the most talented sculptors and artists in the country, especially for this ambitious project.
The chapels blend seamlessly into the stunning mountain setting making it one of the most beautiful Sacri Monti in Italy.
The 14 chapels
Skip the explanations of the 14 chapels. Instead, go to the next section: Santa Maria del Monte
Each of the fourteen chapels at Sacro Monte di Varese represents a different scene in Jesus’ life. The road ends at Sanctuary, the 15th chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary.
Chapels dedicated to Joyful Mysteries (1-5)
Chapel 1 — The Annunciation
The first chapel is a reconstruction of an early 17th-century Lombardy house. As the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she will have a son through virgin birth, the Virgin Mary is positioned next to a bed.
Chapel 2 — The visitation
The second chapel shows Mary visiting Elisabeth, her cousin. Both Mary and Elisabeth are both pregnant. There is also a dog, a donkey and a blind violinist among the statues.
Chapel 3 — The Nativity
This chapel displays the Christmas nativity scene, which is well-known to Christians. Jesus is surrounded by many figures and animals as he lies in the manger.
Chapel 4 — The Presentation of Jesus at His Temple
The fourth chapel is where Mary presents the baby Jesus Christ to Simeon. You can also see a thief stealing coins and a dog as the scene unfolds.
Chapel 5 — Jesus is challenged by religious leaders at the temple
The fifth chapel, which is the last to the Joyful Mysteries, depicts Jesus sitting in the middle of the teachers at the temple.
Chapels dedicated the Sorrowful Mysteries (6-10).
Chapel 6 — Jesus praying at the garden
The chapel depicts Jesus side-byside with the angel who offers him the chalice for the Passion. The three sleeping apostles are John, James, and Peter. To the left, Judas leads a group of threatening men.
Chapel 7 — The flagellation Christ
Jesus is stripped and tied to a column in this chapel. He is then dragged to flagellation. Caiaphas, Jesus Barabbas and other villains attack him with their grotesque forms.
Chapel 8 — The crowning of the thorns
The eighth chapel shows Jesus being crown by his captors. They use the crown of the thorns to make him feel pain and mock his claims of authority.
Chapel 9 — The Ascent to Calvary
This chapel depicts Jesus as he travels to Calvary, the place where he will be crucified. It is located just outside Jerusalem. Two villains press Jesus as he bears the cross.
Chapel 10 — The Crucifixion
The tenth chapel is perhaps the most iconic scene in Christian theology. It depicts the crucifixion and death of Jesus. This artistic rendering shows Jesus about to be lifted on a high wooden cross.
Chapels dedicated to the Glorious Mystery (11 – 14).
Chapel 11 — The resurrection
This chapel has Jesus, who is suspended in the center and carries the banner of victory, the cross. The scenes painted behind Jesus depict Heaven as well as the various Apparitions of Jesus.
Chapel 12 — The Ascension
The Virgin Mary and the Apostles are able to see Jesus ascending into Heaven from the 12th chapel. They are surrounded by golden rays.
Chapel 13 — The descent by the Holy Spirit
The Virgin Mary and the Apostles are at the center of this scene. They receive the Holy Spirit’s flame alongside a white dove.
Chapel 14 — Mary’s Assumption
The Virgin Mary, accompanied with angels, is seen rising from the earth in the last chapel. She leaves behind an empty tomb, and eleven incredulous apostles.
The Sanctuary is dedicated the final Mystery of the Rosary, the coronation of the Virgin Mary to be the Queen of Heaven.
After climbing Sacro Monte di Varese: Santa Maria del Monte
Santa Maria del Monte is located at the foot of Italy’s Alps, and at the top of the climb. It is an autonomous municipality which now forms part of Varese.
Santa Maria del Monte offers a relaxing place to unwind after climbing the Sacro Monte or learning about its history. You can stroll along cobbled streets, have a cup of coffee, or eat at one of the nearby restaurants.
Santa Maria del Monte’s main attractions include the Baroffio Museum, the Romite Ambrosiane Ancient Monastery and the Pogliaghi House Museum.
You can also take the funicular to the Sacro Monte’s beginning.
On the official website, you can find additional information about Sacro Monte di Varese.
Thank you for reading!