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il lago d'orta, the most romantic of italian lakes il più romantico dei laghi italiani


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L'ISOLA DI SAN GIULIO © by Marco Mombello e Anna Mula

the island of St. Giulio
(lago d'orta)


According to the legend, the Island of St. Giulio was dominated by a big serpent that destroyed everything. But when St. Giulio, that had the power to command over the waves, the storms, the wild animals and the human beings, arrived near the lake , waving his hand he chased away the dangerous menacing animal.

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He reached the Island journeying over the water on his cloack guided by his staff. The big reptile disappeared and St. Giulio, tired and near to his death, thought that the island was the right place to build his hundredth and last church dedicated to the Holy Apostles. The Island of San Giulio is today a place of great misticism. Here was born on 962 William of Volpiano, during the siege to Queen Willa by Emperor Otto, King Berengario II's wife, who had taken the Island from the Bishop of Novara. The big central building was a Castle. The island was the governor 's seat that represented the bishop. On 1842 it was destroyed to build on it a seminary. Now there is a Benedictin monastery that helps giving more mistic power to a place that is by nature immersed in the silence.
Between 1593 and 1615, a decisive role in the continuation of the project was played by the Bishop of Novara, Carlo Bescapè; he was concerned that the complex should be a strictly organised centre of devotion, in line with the ideas which had inspired the Council of Trento, and more particulary with the interpretation of the Counter-Reformation given by Carlo Borromeo in the diocese of Milan.        

For example, he took paints to ensure that the episodes of the life of St. Francis of Assisi - the chosen theme of the devotional itinerary - were correctly illustrated, and to encourage the faithful in devotion and the elevation of the spirit, inspecting every stage of the work in progress and giving precise instructions as to the scenes to be represented inside each chapel. Furthermore, he set up a body, the fabbriceria, a kind of committee of works, to administer the funds which were donated or willed towards the completion of the project. The overall plan of work, including the choice of the site of each chapel and the lay-out of the paths and the vegetation, was made by the Capuchin architect Cleto of Castelletto Ticino, who worked in close collaboration with Bishop Bescapè. The first chapels were thus executed with small, intimate groups of terracotta figures representing simple people, and decorated with frescoes whose key characteristic was their descriptive tone, intended as a clear, easily understandable way of recounting to the faithful the story of the Saint who had modelled his life on Christ's.
The Basilica of San Giulio was originally founded by St. Giulio in 390. During the siege of Otto 1st (956 - 962) the church was seriously damaged and only the central apse was saved. After year 962 the canons had the privilege on the territory of the Island signed by Otto the Great , so they dedicated themselves to the reconstruction of the church. The tower was added during the 11th - 12th century.
In the Basilica the frescoes were certainly begun very early, and re-done at various times. Of the datables the oldest frescoe is aged 1421. But the greatest work of art in the Basilica is the ambo. The pulpit is carved out of grey-green serpentine from the Oira quarry. The sculptures represent the Evangelists. The figure sculpted among the eagle and the lion is probably Guglielmo of Volpiano.

The elegant houses on the lake were the canon's residences: In 1763 each of them was called after a Saint to recognise them easily. During the month of June, in Villa Tallone takes place the Festival of Ancient Music, now at its 15th edition. This prestigious event is organized by the Association "Amici della Musica" of Novara. During the Sundays of September take place the Piano Concerts of the "Settembre musicale di San Giulio".

The famous Medioeval Ambone
(photos & description)

Island's alleys (photo by A. Piazzai)

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The Basilica's frescoes (flickr) - click here