Madonna del Sasso
Cities & Monuments
The Madonna del Sasso (Our Lady of the Rock) in Orselina is the most important sanctuary in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. For centuries, pilgrims would walk to the Sacred Mountain where, according to the tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared (1480). Two routes are possible: the steep Via Crucis or the trails in the natural valley where a few chapels are located. If you prefer comfort, you may take the funicular railway that leaves from Locarno. Numerous works of art preserved in the sanctuary - stuccoes, frescoes, ex votos (offerings to saints), Bramantino and Ciseri canvases - were revitalized by the restoration completed in 2013
Restoration of the basilica of the Madonna del Sasso have been completed in 2013. For those who are already acquainted with the Sacro Monte, it could be a good occasion to revisit it. For those that are going up for the first time, you will discover a site valuable for its location, history and artistic and spiritual riches. The architectural complex includes, aside from the basilica and the Franciscan convent located at the tip of a sharp-cornered rock, the church of Annunciation, the Via Crucis and other chapels.
The tradition narrates that in 1480 brother Bartolomeo of Ivrea had an apparition of Virgin Mary with the Infant on this hill. The population's devotion led them to build a first chapel. In the following centuries the idea of the Sacro Monte arose which is a widespread religious architectural form in the Lake region: an ensemble of churches and chapels located along a course of devotion and integrated into a fascinating and isolated natural environment.
The Madonna del Sasso sanctuary, place of meditation and pilgrimage for centuries, is accessible by funicular railway from Locarno to Orselina (Santuario stop) or on foot (approximately 30 minutes). Leave the Locarno porticos and climb up the Via delle Monache and Via del Sasso to the 16th century church of Annunciation. A little further, the street meets a junction: going left leads to the Via Crucis surrounded by twelve chapels with illustrated scenes of the Passion; going right is the trail in the valley.
The basilica stands on a vast square where the view ranges over the inner Locarno region At its interior, preserved are the statue of the Madonna del Sasso, a precious wooden sculpture from the end of the 1400s, and numerous ex votos proof of the devotion that bloomed over the centuries around this apparition: painted canvases, oils, embroidery, silver hears. Two masterpieces are the altarpiece the "Flight into Egypt" of Bramantino (circa 1520) and the "Transport of Christ to the Sepulcher" that Antonio Ciseri of Ronco above Ascona painted in Florence around 1870.
Inside the church are stucco and fresco decorations that have reacquired their luminosity after the restoration. Not to miss is the chapel in the courtyard containing the altarpiece of the "Lamentation" from the end of the 15th century.
The Madonna del Sasso Museum
Located in the oldest part of the convent, the museum was reopened at the end of September 2016. The museum occupies the original spaces where the four friars lived, including the refectory which houses a magnificent fresco of the Last Supper.
The eight exhibition spaces explore the conventual life of the Capuchin friars and the history of the convent as an integral part of the Pre-Alpine Sacred Mountains. Particularly worthy of note is the largest Ticino collection of ex-votos, mostly dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries, including those of Valmaggese artist Giovanni Antonio Vanoni (1810-1886). Two rooms are dedicated to preparatory works and to several replicas of "The Transport of Christ to the Sepulcher". The original by Ticino artist Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891), considered one of the greatest 19th century painters of religious subjects, is displayed in the church.