Madonna del Sasso: the sacred mountain

A sanctuary perched on a scenic rocky spur with a breathtaking view of Lake Maggiore, the city of Locarno and the delta of the River Maggia.

Madonna del Sasso: the sacred mountain
  • Who would have guessed that the best view from this side of the lake could be had from the forecourt of a church?

  • The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso in Orselina, which lovingly guards the city of Locarno from above, is a place of peace and recollection. An important pilgrimage destination, the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso and Sacro Monte are located on the CoEUR (In the heart of Europe's paths) a devotional hiking route, which links the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena.

The complex, which stands on a rocky spur, includes the Church of the Annunciation, the monestery, the Way of the Cross (via crucis), the Chapel Road - of which unfortunately little remains - and the Basilica of the Madonna del Sasso, which rises to the top of Sacro Monte at the end of a large square with a spectacular view of the city, the valleys and Lake Maggiore. There is also a niche in the complex with a scene of the Last Supper depicted with terracotta statues. The magnificent church is decorated with fascinating frescoes and votive tablets.

The Sanctuary can be reached from the heart of the Old Town of Locarno, along two possible paths that start at the foot of the mountain: the road of the chapels, where the church of the Annunciata and the remains of various chapels are located or the Via Crucis with its chapels, in which are depicted the sufferings of Jesus Christ on his way to his crucifixion. The funicular train Locarno-Orselina, which runs near the train station, avoids the 20-minute climb on foot.

The Madonna del Sasso is a place of pilgrimage founded in 1487

The Madonna del Sasso is a place of pilgrimage founded in 1487 by the Franciscan friar Frá Bartolomeo Piatti from Ivrea as a result of an apparition here of the Virgin Mary in 1480 on the evening preceding the Feast of the Assumption. This is one of the most important historical and religious sites in Canton Ticino, characterised by works of art of great value, such as the statue of the Madonna del Sasso (in wood) on the square, the Flight into Egypt altarpiece by Bramantino and the Transposition of Christ to the Sepulchre by Ciseri.

The Sacred Mounts are devotional complexes very widespread in the pre-Alpine area, characterized by a series of chapels with scenes from the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary or the Saints, located on the side of a mountain. The devotional chapel, created following the vision of Brother Bartholomew, soon developed into the idea of a Sacro Monte, and underwent its first modifications as early as the 15th century, while in the 17th century the existing structure was considerably extended. Today there are also numerous ex-votos collected over the centuries, which testify to the devotion to the Madonna.

The monastery is now home to Capuchin friars, to whom the Canton has entrusted the religious care of Sacro Monte. Thanks to its merger with Italy, the order has acquired younger brothers and fresh impetus, and has gained in appeal. Definitely worth a visit is the Museo Madonna del Sasso, inaugurated in 2016 and housed in the oldest part of the monastery. Also on display are paraments, devotional objects, drawings and pictures by the Ticino artist Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891): a journey through life in the monastery and the history of the monastery with a view to promoting the Sacred Mountains of the Pre-Alps.

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