Perched on the rocky hills of Orselina dominating over the charming town of Locarno in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland is the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso (Our Lady of the Rock) It was built in the 15th century following a vision of Mary by Bartolomeo d’Ivrea a Franciscan monk. One of Locarno main attraction, the sanctuary, a popular pilgrimage site can be reached either by foot or funicular railway which may be taken from the town centre, not far from the train station. Reaching the sanctuary is the beautiful facade of the church restored in the 19th century overlooking a lovely square with splendid views of Locarno and Lake Maggiore.
Spectacularly decorated, the intersecting rib vault is richly adorned with colourful frescoes and gilded carvings. The central nave flanked with marble columns surmounted with gilded acanthus capitals, lead to the 18th century main altar adorned with 15th century statue of Our Lady of the Rock holding the infant. The Marian cult is greatly felt through the presence of a number of ex voto, embroideries and painted tablets offered as signs of gratitude.
Walk around the side aisles with splendidly decorated chapels and admire some of the church’s treasured paintings and stucco decorations restored in the 19th century by Capuchin monks.
Among its treasure is the famous 16th century altar piece tempera painting depicting the Holy family flight into Egypt work of Bartolomeo Suardi known as Bramantino the Quattrocento Milanese artist and architect who worked at the court of the Dukes of Sforza.
17th to 20th centuries terracotta figures and wooden sculptures adorned some of the exterior chapels.
The stations of the cross began with the first pilgrimages to the Holy Land. By the 16th century outdoors chapels along paths leading to holy sanctuaries were built by Franciscan friar. These sacred paths became known as way of the chapels or the via crucis where shrines along the way depict images illustrating the passion of Christ. Some of the most beautiful examples are to be seen at the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy known as the nine sacred mounts of Northern Italy where 16th and 17th centuries chapels built along devotional paths to holy sanctuaries illustrate some of Christianity most impressive artistic expression while recalling the via dolorosa where Christ carried his cross from Jerusalem to Calvary. In Orselina the via crucis flanked with outdoor chapels leads the way to the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso.