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Popular devotion
 

Long before Sacred Mounts construction, their locations were already objects of religious and sometimes even pagan cults. Only for the Varallo’s complexe, whose project aimed to build a New Jerusalem in the West, the choice was mainly taken for place environmental characteristics and for the local community’s availability of supporting building costs; all other sacred complexes were instead built on the base of older religious traditions.

The devotion to Mary is here the most spread and it’s always present even in the Sacred Mounts dedicated to a Saint, for example Saint Francis in Orta, and to the Holy Trinity, as in the particular case of Ghiffa. We can say that in the Sacred Mounts the figure of Our Lady, Madonna, sacred symbol and Sanctuaries’s dedication, is everywhere object of religious devotion with Her different and strongly rooted popular tradition iconographies; in fact this is also true for the churches which are not expressly dedicated to the Virgin, such as the one of Orta’s Sacred Mount, Saint Nicolao’s Basilica, where the picture of the Madonna of the Pity is still object of an ancient religious cult.

There are different images of the Virgin which gave rise to a great popular devotion for the Mother of Jesus, above all in the female popular religiousity, for which there is somehow a close identification of the figure of This suffering woman with women everyday life problems. Looking at scenes represented within chapels, pilgrims could feel both veneration for the glorious Madonna’s Assumption, the Blessed Virgin Mary Crowned, or for Her hieratic dark complexion icons –She is almost always represented in this way within Sanctuaries- and feel deep religious pity towards the mother suffering for Her Son’s Passion, or the girl excited for the Annunciation of Her holy destiny, or, as ordinary women, the woman dealing with everyday houseworks.

All the Marian Festivities of the Liturgical Year are in fact intensively celebrated by people and also represent moments of symbolic link between the Sanctuary and the Sacred Mount. Sometimes religious celebrations take place along the devotional itinerary and in some chapels too, but the most important ones are celebrated into Sanctuaries according to the Liturgical Year. The festivity of the Assumption of Mary is particularly solemn both in the Varallo’s Basilica, that is dedicated to it, and in the ones of Crea and Varese, where on the vigil they also organize suggestive night processions illuminated by torches and electric torches.
In Crea this festivity ends with Mary’s Crowning represented by the eucharistic celebration within the Heaven’s Chapel; the same celebration is particularly important also for the Our Lady of Oropa’s Sanctuary where every year they commemorate the First Crowning dating back to 1620 that, since then, is solemnly repeated only every one hundred years. The same happens in other Sacred Mount where they open some chapels for special annual celebrations, among which the celebration for the Madonna of Angels, the franciscan celebration of the Porziuncola in Orta and Belmonte, and the celebration for the Madonna of Graces in Domodossola, which takes place in the homonymous chapel belonging to the Sacred Mount devotional itinerary.

An important celebration is the Virgin’s Birth, to whom are dedicated the churches belonging to Ossuccio and Belmonte’s Sacred Mounts. For the Annunciation’s festivity, the homonymous chapel of Varallo’s Sacred Mount, at midnight, after a suggestive procession illuminated by candles, is open to faithfuls for playing the Angelus.

Processions are moments of prayer in all Sacred Mounts with whom they hand down local devotional activities together with traditional ones like the Holy Week’s Via Crucis. Some processions start from churches which rise outside the Sacred Mount like in Varallo where, on Palm Sunday, the old Sette Marie’s Procession starts from the Collegiata’s Church down below; or like in Crea where, for the annual Feast of the Annunciation faithfuls go in procession with the whole Serralunga’s community. In Trinity’s Sacred Mount the night Procession before Christmas also has the important symbolic meaning of creating again the pastoral community’s unity composed by all Ghiffa’s parishes. Even today all Sacred Mounts and their Sanctuaries are individuals or group pilgrimage’s destinations, people coming from every religious community; the aims of many pilgrimages are witnessed by a very great quantity of ex-voto here collected.

In some cases very ancient traditions still exist, like the procession towards the Varese’s Sacred Mount where, every year since 1604, a pilgrimage starts from Malnate and comes here in order to commemorate the place and the year of the first preaching originally made to support the realization of Via delle Cappelle (Chapels’ route). The old pilgrimage from Orta’s Sacred Mount to Varallo’s one, crossing over the lake and passing through Colma’s pass, recently proposed again, boasts yearly a great number of faithfuls; the same happens in occasion of the historical pilgrimage which, every five years, leads the religious community of Fontainemore, through an impervious mountain path, to the Oropa’s Sanctuary in Valle d’Aosta region.



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Excerpts from:
F. Fontana, R. Lodari, P. Sorrenti, Luoghi e vie di pellegrinaggio. I Sacri Monti del Piemonte e della Lombardia , 2004, published by Centro di Documentazione dei Sacri Monti, Calvari e Complessi devozionali europei.

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Testata giornalistica registrata al Tribunale di Torino (n.14 del 02/04/2009)
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