Nestled in the Italian Alps, the Sanctuary of Oropa is a majestic holy place that will certainly impress not only Roman Catholics but also adherents to other faiths and non-believers too. On the top of a mountain, at 1,159 metres high, the Sanctuary of Oropa, a UNESCO Heritage Site, stands proudly between the higher Alps northwards and the great Padan Plain on the south.
The Sanctuary is located around the place where, according to the tradition, Saint Eusebius placed the black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. In the fourth century, Saint Eusebius, the bishop of Vercelli, brought this statue sculpted by Saint Luke from Jerusalem to Europe. To the best of our knowledge, there is a lack of evidence for this version of the origin of the Sanctuary of Oropa. Yet, records display that since the 13th century, thousands of pilgrims have been climbing up to the Sanctuary; several miracles have been credited to the Virgin Mary of Oropa. The Sanctuary was an important landmark for travellers from the nearby Vallée d’Aoste. Still today, over 100 annual pilgrimages are organised to reach the Sanctuary. According to the district tourism office, the Sanctuary of Oropa receives approximately 800,000 visitors per year.
Today, the site consists of an old and worn Basilica, the surrounding buildings traditionally used to host pilgrims and the Upper Basilica. The entire site stands proudly on the top of a mountain surrounded by coniferous woods. The Ancient Basilica is a charming Alpine church dating back to the 17th century. Inside you'll find frescoes and the black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary of Oropa. Around the church, the buildings traditionally hosting pilgrims, whose shape will remind you of monasteries. Behind these buildings, moving up the mountain, the Upper Basilica. The Upper Basilica is an imposing building, with a monumental dome. The construction works were launched in 1885 but were stopped during the wars. Finally, the Upper Basilica opened in 1960. Other smaller but still lovely oratories and chapels surround the site.
The day of our last visit was partly cloudy and rainy: a mysterious and spiritual atmosphere surrounded the place. The experience was even more profound than usual. The pictures in this story were taken during this visit.
The Sanctuary of Oropa is around 13 kilometres away from the Italian city of Biella, in the north-western region of Piedmont. To reach the sanctuary, a road from Biella snakes and climbs up to the mountain. A regular coach service from the railway station of Biella is also available. The Italian cities of Milan and Turin are no more than two hours’ drive away. The Roman city of Aosta is even closer.
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Marie-Madeleine & Giuseppe Renauld
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