What it is and where it is
Looking at this building one is caught between two impressions without really knowing how to decide: grandeur and simplicity. The facade greets us with four pilasters, a wide and elegant arch emphasizing the entrance, while a tympanum defines regular geometries lightening them slightly upward. The whole, is a tiny bit elevated from the street, and is reached by a few steps. In short, it is clear that this building is important, but because of its simplicity it almost looks like a chapel, albeit a larger one.
Why it is special
The mystery is soon revealed. What we are looking at is the shrine that was supposed to crown, together with a huge statue, the path of the Sacred Mount of Arona. The simple facade was supposed to fit into the design and dialogue with those of the other chapels. Too bad that besides the shrine, only a few other elements were realized, leaving the project unfinished. Not too bad though, those who wanted to learn more about St. Charles Borromeo will find all the answers they are looking for here.
Not to be missed
Inside the sanctuary, one cannot fail to visit the chapel dedicated to the saintly birth. In addition to housing the two large wooden cabinets that hold several of the saint's relics, the chapel is famous for being a reconstruction of the Camera dei Tre Laghi, i.e., the room once located in the Fortress of Arona where St. Charles was born. The room was practically disassembled and reassembled here on the top of Sacro Monte.
A bit of history
The plan for the fabrication of the Sacro Monte di San Carlo, drawn up in the early years of the second decade of the 1600s by architect Francesco Maria Richini, called for the creation of an ascending path along the hill consisting of a series of chapels. High points of this ascent would have been the church and the colossus of San Carlo. Due to a series of unforeseen events, the project was realized only in its final part: the church, the statue and three unfinished chapels: the first, eighth and eleventh.
In order to celebrate the memory of St. Charles, it was initially planned to create a place of worship in the room where the saint was born, in the Rock of Arona. The reason why the project was carried out on another peak of the mountain is exquisitely military. The Rocca was at that time a garrisoned fortress; the constant pilgrimages would have made it impossible to defend the fortress from enemy attacks and spies.