The Graglia Sanctuary
The origins of the Sanctuary date back to the early XVII century, when Don Nicolao Velotti, the vicar of the town, wanted to transform the San Carlo hill in the "Calvario", as Bernardino Caimi did on the Holy Mount in Varallo a century before.
That was a great project with a remarkably big temple and with 100 chapels full of life-size statues representing Jesus life.
In 1616 the works began, but they went slow. After the Don Velotti's dead, the initial enthusiasm for the plan vanished, so it was reduced and an oratory, dedicated to Our Lady of the Snow, was built, just outside the town, in Campra. The idea of the sanctuary was taken again in 1655. A great temple with a shelter for pilgrims was designed, on the Divine Goodness Hill, where a chapel consecrated to Our Lady of Loreto already stood. The main promoter of this ambitious project was Duke Carlo Emanuele II, who appointed Captain Piero Arduzzi, a civil and military engineer, to draw the plan of the building. 20th September 1659, the blessing was given to the first stone. Because of the terrible wars of that time, its construction was stopped for long periods. In 1765, it was asked to the popular architect Bernardo Antonino Vittone to continue its works, so he gave a new momentum to the conclusion of the building.
WHAT YOU CAN'T MISS
The sanctuary tour obviously starts from the Basilica, with its octagonal cupola, decorated by Fabrizio Galliari, in 1870. It is worth noting the painting of the high altar, representing the "passage of St. Joseph", by the painter, Mauro Picinardi from Bergamo (1785); the high altar designed by Perratone and carved in marble by the "Maestro", Catella from Lugano; the organ created by Carlo Bossi from Bergamo, set up in 1839 and still functioning. Near the high altar, the Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto is visible; the painting (1717) at the entrance is remarkable: an ancient vow to Our Lady of Loreto made by the inhabitants of Graglia, in order to thank her for having escaped the plague.
The recent restoration gave again a magnificent look to the "Cappella degli esercizi" (the Chapel of the exercises) at the first floor, over the sacristy. It was built in 1740 and decorated with a false prospective, in different moments, by the painter Giovanni Battista Greggio from Miagliano and by the painter Gio' Antonio Genta from Biella.
It is worth visiting the four recently restored chapels of the Holy Mount, of the sanctuary. They had been built between 1664 and 1684, dedicated to the Birth of Jesus and to the Adoration of the Magi, with polychrome terracotta statues made by the sculptor Francesco Pozzi and to the Introduction of Jesus to the temple and to the Circumcision, with works of art by the sculptor Carlo Pagano and by the painter Propsero Antonio Placco, whose paintings adorn the walls. Outside the Basilica, in the small Holy Mary court, there are two artistic sundials and the splendid "burnell" (fountain) in stone.
You can not miss the recently reordered Library, which casts light on its great value: 1500 books, most of which date back to the 17th and 18th century. You can also notice the "58 cinquecentine", (of the 16th century), among which an almost complete issue of the work of St. Thomas and one of the 1513, describing the Holy Land by the means of splendid maps, made in that time.
You can see this important heritage on demand. Not very far from the complex of the Sanctuary, you can not miss to see the San Carlo Church, that should had been the end of the starting project of the Holy Mount, inside which a group of statues represent the "Deposition". It is also worth visiting the graveyard, which can be reached by a recently restored panoramic road.
The processions, which lead to the Sanctuary many believers each year, have always been considered the most tangible expression of faith for Our Lady of Loreto. Some of them are very nice, such as that organised by the Graglia parish, the fourth Sunday in Lent and that by the Sordevolo parish, the last Sunday of June, in odd years. Moreover, the feast of the Assumption evening (15th August), a suggestive torchlight procession takes place in the Virgin Mary's honour, along the Viale Belletti. Then there is that of the first Sunday of September, when the Mongrando and Graglia parishes go to pay tribute to Our Lady of Loreto, whom feast is the second Sunday of December.
A CURIOUS PHENOMENON
One of the most ancient and charming acoustic phenomenon takes place along the path from the Graglia Sanctuary to San Carlo. In fact, reaching the signed point and placing towards the Sanctuary it is possible to hear the yelled word in a split second. The odd thing is that here the echo can repeat a word of eleven syllables. (try the Italian word: "precipitevolissimevolmente!")
The experts, which already knew this phenomenon in the 18th century, thought it was due to the construction of the monumental complex of the Sanctuary together with the particular climate and environment. It is a rare phenomenon that you can not miss: there is only another "Hendecasyllabic echo" in the world, that is to say in the U.S. Grand Canyon.
The Sanctuary is a renowned resort. In its surroundings, you can do short walks or demanding excursions and in winter, downhill skiing. For the sport's lovers: a bowls area (4 regular pitches), lit for the evening matches; a volleyball, basket and five-a-side football field, lit in the evenings; a 9 hole mini golf, open in Summer in the evening, too.
Young or sport groups (of a maximum of 40 people) can be hosted in the Sanctuary big room equipped with bunk beds. Paths lead to splendid walks by horse or by mountain bike among the greenery. Moreover it is possible to practice free-climbing on the equipped wall of the former granite quarry, near the graveyard.
You can not miss the Mombarone, nearby the Graglia Sanctuary, which is a 2372 high mount, reachable in a 4 hour run. From its top, dominated by the monument to the Redeemer, you can enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of the Alps. Those who want to stay for some days in that heaven can find board and lodging to the Mombarone Refuge (2300m), open from 15th July to 31st August, everyday, and at the weekends from 1st June to 17th July and from 1st to 30th September.
Each year, the first Sunday of August, the Pro Loco of the Graglia Sanctuary organises a mountain race competition to the refuge.
As for the handicrafts, you can buy some woodworks of everyday use at the Sanctuary. In fact, woodworking is really widespread among peasants.
The first Sunday of July, the local Pro Loco organises on an important market- exhibition, where you can also find the well-known Toma of the Elvo Valley, a semi fatty cheese which has merited the D.O.P. recognition (protected denomination of origin). There are many restaurants at the Sanctuary, where you can taste all the typical dishes of the Biellese tradition, first of all the "Polenta Concia" (a rather soft polenta served with lots of butter and cheese). The Lauretana water is to be remembered. It is bottled there, directly by the water mountain springs and it is known for its therapeutic properties as well as for being the lightest water in Italy.
The Graglia Sanctuary hosts in its monumental complex a "Casa per le ferie" (Guest House), with 100 beds, open from 1st June to 30th September. In Summer, young groups or parish pilgrimages can organise workshops for the religious reflection,- brotherly prayer and dialogue. It is also possible to celebrate there the Holy Communion and receive the sacrament of the Reconsecration, with the rector's agreement.
11am – to 16.30pm in Winter
11am – to 17.30pm in Summer
• Ristorante del Santuario: Ph. 015 442206
• Ristorante Eco: Ph. 015 442209
• Trattoria Rocchi: Ph. 015 442465
• Albergo Ristorante Bossola, Loc. Bossola: Ph. 015 442291
• Antico Grand Hotel: Ph. 015 442410
Summer information office for the Biellese region: the Ufficio Assistenza ai Turisti (Office for the tourist's assistance) together with the Azienda Turistica Locale (Local Tourist Agency), placed at the entrance of the Sanctuary.
Direzione Opera Pia Santuario di Graglia - Tel.015/442200
Rettoria - Tel.015/442227
Location: Graglia (Elvo Valley)