Our historical itinerary starts from the Holy Land, from Christianity's origins, from the places that witnessed the Birth, the Life, the Passion,
the Death and the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Since the IV century those Places are pilgrimages destinations for
devotion and penance.
In the Middle Age pilgrimage was an important part of the life of each good Christian; it represented a particularly intense moment
of 'agreement'. At that time the most important pilgrims destinations were three: Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. Following
on the weakening of western influence and on the prevailing of the Turkish power in the East, pilgrimages to the Holy Land stopped to be
a group phenomenon and became a very expensive adventure, from which people even risked not to come back home anymore. At the same time
there weren't anymore all those needful presuppositions to make a pilgrimage; in fact political unstableness, agricultural development
and improvement of general life conditions had contributed to reduce the desire to leave.
So, in order to give another possibility to
those who could not face the hardships of an expensive and dangerous travel, and in order to preserve the sense of peregrinatio, they
brought in the so-called substitutive practices: these practices allowed to get the same indulgence that people usually got by
going to the Holy Land without danger for life. Therefore, during the XV century, making a pilgrimage to a given place, such as a
sanctuary, somehow linked to religious pity's practices and/or where some particular relics were preserved, became the same as a
travel to Jerusalem. Far better was if those chosen places also reminded of the Holy Places - either for the dedications or for the
architectures and figurative arts - in order the recall images of the Heavenly Holy Jerusalem.
Some friars of Saint Francis Minor Order, who lived in the Holy Land between the end of the XV and the beginning of the XVI century, once
back home decided to rebuild, as accurately as possibile, the Holy Places of Palestine. So, it was to avoid Holy Land pilgrimage's difficulties
that rose the New Jerusalem of Varallo Sesia in Piedmont (thanks to father Bernardino Caimi) and the New Jerusalem of Montaione in Tuscany
(thanks to father Tommaso of Florence). Both buildings gave life to the "ideal" Holy Land pilgrimage, not dangerous and not expensive, therefore
repeatable. For their explicit recalling the Holy Land, these coeval examples are two emblematic buildings that can be defined "gerosolimitani"
(which means "of Jerusalem"). During the various epoches the New Jerusalem of Varallo Sesia, owing to its geographical location in the
Pre-Alps, had been modified many times. The changing of historical-religious and political conditions brought in different ways of making
use of arts in Christianity's service. The New Jerusalem of San Vivaldo indeed, located in the centre of Italy, has remained almost unchanged
up to our time witnessing the original founding spirit.
In the period following the Council of Trento, thanks to the Counter-reformation of Saint Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584) and his bishops -
throughout the north-western Alps and Pre-Alps - bore a series of devotional routes called Sacred Mounts. Once given up the original ideas
to rebuild as accurately as possible the topographical layout of Holy Places, as they did for the New Jerusalems, they followed indeed a
chronological-narrative pattern. Pursuing these new aims, the first settlement of Varallo Sesia was modified and the late-sixteenth-century
Sacred Mounts of Crea and Orta were founded. In the beginning of XVII century rose the one of Varese, while in the following decades rose
the ones of Oropa, Ossuccio, Domodossola, Ghiffa and Belmonte. For building these new religious complexes they chose either devotional
places, such as sanctuaries, or sites which had preserved an even more ancient pagan cult and were then converted to Christianity, or
places which were already known for their history and tradition.