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Virtual tour of the church of Riva with the masterpiece of Melchiorre d'Enricis

In 1326 Riva Valdobbia obtained parish independence by separating from Scopa on which it was dependent until then. The present-day church was originally the cemetery chapel dedicated to Saint Mary, built in 1473. There are two striking bell towers and magnificent, grandiose frescoes on the front depicting the Last Judgement and Saint Christopher, work of Melchiorre d'Henricis of Alagna (Tanzio of Varallo's brother), who completed it in 1597. The antique parish is found near the torrent Vogna and was destroyed by a flood in 1640. The inhabitants of Riva then decided to move the church to a more protected area and also to change the cemetery chapel into a parish church.
The representation of the Last Judgement was to reprimand the believers and was a fairly common painting on the back of the same wall.(inside the church). But in Riva Valdobbia it is found on the front. An explanation could be in the fact that Melchiorre painted that fresco for the cemetery chapel, so it is possible that the purpose was to scare the believers who went to visit the dead.
The Archangel Saint Michael is depicted in the centre of the fresco, in the act of weighing the souls during the Last Judgement and the giant Saint Christopher, patron saint of Valsesia and protector of the borders and areas of passage, is to the left. The choice of this particular scene is linked to a specific reason: the ancient road Via Regia which passed by Riva Valdobbia was connected to the Gressoney valley and then to France. This was the route that many Valsesians took in search of work abroad and while passing in front of Saint Christopher, they asked for his protection.
The entrance to the church is an acute lancet stone arch. The inside is richly decorated and adorned with paintings and sculptures like: the baptismal font that is made up of two parts, the upper part in wood and the base in soapstone (maybe dating back to the XI-XII centuries); the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, fresco paintings on the dome by Carlo Borsetti; the bass-relief in stone representing the Crucifixion of Christ by the master tombstone carver HW; the antique 15th century statue of the sacred Madonna with child and much more makes the church of Saint Michael an important place to see sacred Valsesian art.

A virtual tour to the treasures of the church of Alagna

The Parish Church in Alagna, dedicated to San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist), was built on an antique oratory whose traces have been lost and became the parish in 1475 after the separation of Riva from Valdobbia. The ever increasing number of families present in the territory of Alagna, the community taking root and the German language that prevented the parishioners from communicating with the parish members created the necessity for the creation of a new parish. The community of Alagna therefore asked for a parishioner who could speak titztchu underlying the importance that confessions could not be done with the help of a translator!
A bigger church was built between 1505 and 1511 in late Gothic style and then redecorated on the inside in Baroque style and restyled again between 1672 and 1690 in its actual form.
The elegant portico that protects the 19th century frescoes on the facade is the work of the brothers Avondo of Balmuccia and it represents the birth and ascension of St John, while the main entrance is decorated with a beautiful Annunciation.
The inside guards considerable treasures of sacred art, fruit of the creativity of local artists. Entering the church, your gaze is captured by the monumental pyramidal wooden alter made by Giovanni Maria Guala Molina of Mollia in the last decade of the 17th century. The tiles of the alter-steps narrate episodes of the life of St John the Baptist. To the right of the alter is a group of sculptures dedicated to San Rocco and St Sebastian and is the work of the Alagnese sculptor, Giovanni d'Enrico, brother of the famous Tanzio from Varallo. Next to it is the 16th century portable altar, an evocative example of the religious premises as is the big wooden 16th century cross.
To the left of the biggest altar, the one dedicated to the Madonna del Rosario,you can admire the delicate, refined engraving in the tiles representing the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary as well as the beautiful statue of the Virgin with typical 17th century voluminous drapery. The baptistery is remarkable with its lower part made of soapstone and dated 1630. The pulpit is also made of soapstone.
The cemetery is found next to the church and the ancient tombstones are placed on its surrounding walls. On the tombstones, the family names “huszeiche”(in the local language) are still visible, where once upon a time all the details of a family were engraved. In recent times it became a tradition to create tombstones using some architectural detail of the Walser homes. Inspiration is taken from the tombstone of the engineer Daverio, the enlightened benefactor of the community of Alagna who dedicated his life to the study and restoration of the Walser homes. Slowly this spontaneous phenomena is transforming the look of the cemetery and integrating it in a renewed feeling for the research of diversity in recovering the original aspect.

Easy path but steep and with a drop that requires training and practice in trekking

In Boccioleto, Val Sermenza, 33 km from Alagna, there is a path that leads through the history. First you reach the hamlet Ronchi at 814m asl, where the route starts. The Church of the Madonna delle Grazie, a true jewel of art, first mentioned in 1617, contains a canvas painting of the Madonna on the throne of Rocca dated 1635, an altarpiece of Dedominici and 19th century Avondo frescoes on the facade.
The trail continues towards the chapel of Genestroso. Shortly before Ormezzano some crosses remind us of the victims of an avalanche. When you reach the small hamlet (20 minutes) stop at the oratory of St. John the Baptist where you can admire an altarpiece dated 1649 and the fresco on the facade is the work of Avondo. In 15 minutes you will reach Solivo at 1027m asl, situated in a beautiful panoramic position and the last inhabited area in the Cavaione valley. The oratory dated the end of the 1600’ , is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The front has a contemporary chapel of St. Nicholas of Bari, preceded by a portico with columns and lunettes depicting the Annunciation, inside a sweet Madonna with Child Enthroned and elegant draping as a backdrop, beside them St. Peter and St. Nicholas, San Defendente and a Crucifixion on the walls and a beautiful Annunciation on the ceiling entrance.

The 30min trail which becomes more steep and strenuous between large beech trees leads to the chapel of Selletto 1185m asl.  It is a chapel for rest with a portico with elegant columns. Across the plains you reach the Daloch , Saas and Rivetti alps and then reach  alpe Seccio 1388m asl in 30 minutes where you can admire the oratory of San Lorenzo, the jewel of the Sermenza valley. The church was built in the second half of '300 and consecrated in 1446, the year which dates the beautiful interior frescoes, almost all well preserved . On the ceiling of the apse a magnificent Redeemer, the Four Evangelists and the Annunciation is painted; on the entrance wall, splendid figures of martyrs and church fathers. Outside the square are the remains of an ancient fresco dedicated to St. Christopher and a rare painting of the wheel of fortune. On the way back, we pass by Alpe Tetto, characteristic for the old "torbe" and houses built with massive spruce logs. Returning to Boccioleto we recommend a detour to the hamlet of ORO (25 minutes) to visit the church of St. Pantaleon, 1477, and that of the Madonna del Carmine which has Orgiazzi frescoes of the 18th  century and Borsetti frescoes. The first is at the center of the houses and is completely covered in frescoes. Worth mentioning is that at Boccioleto is the 16th centuryOratory of House Milanetto on the old trail (trail no.387) which leads to Ronchi. At the beginning of the village towards the east, stands the chapel of the Madonna Di Loreto, known as "Gesietto". It is known for its rather 'strange’ aspect and for the variety of marble and the paintings are by Cavallazzi Oleggio (1538). Finishing this worthy artistic itinerary is a visit to the parish church with frescoes by Borsetti (ceiling and paintings of the Apostles), Orgiazzi (St. Peter and Paul), Avondo (presbytery) and Dedominici Rossa (Santa Filomena). In the Church of the Annunciation, now a museum are many works of art from allthe remotest oratories and chapels found in the valley. From these we make mention of the "Lamentation over the Dead Christ", an imposing 16th century wooden statuary group, from the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso.


Reach Campertogno by car (13 km from Alagna). From Campertogno follow the path to Argnaccia, easy and well marked. Frist you meet the Madonna degli Angeli (15 m), than Madonna del Callone (30 min) and than the wonderful flat of Agnaccia (15 m). Walking fo other 30 min you reach the Cangello pasture.

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A visit to Campertogno (13 km from Alagna) cannot be missed by art lovers. At the center of the village, past the stone bridge over the Sesia, in the hamlet Tetti, where the sixteenth-century oratory of San Marco is well worth the visit. It was painted by Orgiazzi and decorated with an artistic iron gate and an altarpiece of the '600. Leaving the hamlet on an easy trail flanked by 15 chapels all dedicated to Madonna and almost all of them painted by the brothers Avondo, you’ll reach the church of The Madonna of the Angels in 15 minutes.  It was built in 1686 on a primitive chapel dating 1481 and also has frescoes done by Avondo on the walls and ceiling.

After passing the houses of Selletto, following steep trail curves, you reach the chapel of Scarpia or " of Visitation", built in a square-shape, without apse graced with frescoes of the Visitation of St. Christopher and the Crucifixion with Saint John the Baptist . The trail continues in a beautiful beech forest and reaches, the church of The Madonna of Callone in about 30 minutes . The frescoes on the facade and interior are attributed to Avondo and those on the back wall are from the 17th  century. In 15 minutes, past the beech forest, you reach Argnaccia, once a village inhabited all year round, now it’s a resort. After the tiny pond, a road leads to the huts and to the chapel of the small village . The interior is rich with ancient frescoes (Madonna and Child, St. Francis, Santa Marta; the Trinity is depicted on the ceiling and the Annunciation on the outside. A cross was erected on the highest hill above Campertogno. In 30 minutes through disappearing birch and laburnum trees scattered in the meadows you reach Cangello. It is a mountain pasture with the Oratorio of San Bernardo with a round window above the door; the interior has a ribbed vault with pentagonal presbytery and the nave has a caisson(box) ceiling. The frescoes are ancient and rather primitive: the churchyard has a long stone seat and repeats a pattern already noticed in previous oratories .Some houses in the surrounding area have been built with log walls. On your way back the church of San Carlo Tetti is worth visiting. It was built on a summit to the right of the Sesia in 1600, flanked by the cemetery in 1836, the original floor slanting upwards and connecting the presbytery with three steps. The " San Carlone " on the apse outside looks over Campertogno. Antonio Orgiazzi decorated the nave in 1777/78, with the paintings of the Via Crucis . Back in the center of Campertogno, you must visit the parish church and the museum next to it. Here the monumental wooden altar of the ancient church is preserved as well as painted furniture, sculptures, ornaments, garments and memorabilia. Of particular interest is the model of the church that dates back to 1700, perhaps designed by Guarini. It roughly represents the present church, built to a design by Filippo Juvarra, then processed by Bernardo Vittone. Among the painters who painted the church are Charles Borsetti ( cup of the presbytery ), Lorenzo and Joseph Avondo (chorus), Pier Celestino Gilardi (Crucifixion).

An easy walk between the villages and the nature of the val Vogna. Well-marked trails, mostly flat


From Riva Valdobbia reach Cà di Janzo, where it's necessary to park the car. Start the walk to Selveglio first (30 min), turn left to reach the hamlet Oro.  Continue to Cà Vescovo (10 min)  and Rabernardo (10 min), Selletto (10 min) and Cambiaveto (10 min), Piane (10 min) and Peccia (15 min). From Peccia return to the Ca di Janzo, passing torugh the lower hamlet called Sant’Antonio, Cà Morca and Cà Piacentino.

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You enter the Vogna valley from Riva Valdobbia. It’s a beautiful valley full of contrasts: wild and rugged in some places, but the many Walser villages make it cultivated and fascinating . After many winding road turns and passing the little chapel of The Madonna of rest (where the villagers stopped to rest with their loads on their shoulders) on the right, we arrive at Cà di Janzo. Here the road is closed during the summer months and a transit permit is only issued to residents. The village was once famous as a summer residence and the hotel "Pensione Alpina" today Casa Alpina Regina Margherita, hosted the Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1898 and Sibilla Aleramo in the early 900’s.

From Ca di Janzo, following trail n° 210, you will reach Selveglio a beautiful village perched on the slopes of the mountain in 30 minutes. Along the trail, the seventeenth-century chapel of St. Anthony is well worth the visit. Selveglio welcomes visitors who can visit the beautiful chapel of the Madonna del Carmine with a bell from the end of the 1700’ and the monumental farm houses constructed with walls in interlocking larch timber and big porches. A fountain made of larch is still in use. The church of San Defendente built by the villagers who escaped the plague of 1630 has three sundials dating early 1800s, the work of G. Carestia. Leaving the trail (no.210) that leads to Cima Mutta, continue left along a well marked scenic trail and you will reach the village of ORO in 10 minutes. Here you should pay special attention to the beautiful houses built on "mushrooms", which are wooden columns that support the main body of the house to prevent mice from entering.

More beautiful is the fountain, while the oven is in ruins. The chapel is dedicated to St. Lawrence. Halfway up, after a 10 minute hike you’ll arrive at Ca' Vescovo where some houses have a white stone on the roof  to which magical powers were attributed. The village overlooks the village St. Anthony and has a magnificent view over the valley.

On the plains among the birches, the trail continues to Rabernardo, a hamlet  perched on a steep slope, past the porch of the chapel of The Madonna of the Snow with the original eighteenth-century bell tower. Of particular interest is the stone font inside the church , the sundial and the polychrome altar dated1600. One of the houses has been set up as a Walser House Museum and well worth the visit . Avoiding the trail to Sant’Antonio, you hike up towards the meadows above the hamlet to reach Selletto first and then Cambiaveto. Large meadows and forests of ash trees surround the houses in a landscape of pure poetic beauty .

The trail continues towards the houses of Piane, a hamlet divided into two distinct groups. The 16th century stone avalanche break for the protection of the houses is of particular interest . In 15 minutes you’ll reach the hamlet Peccia, the last in the valley. It is an ancient village that was devastated by avalanches several times. After the unadorned chapel of St. Nicholas the trail passes between the houses, passed a fountain and leads to the church of Saint Gratus . From here, you may want to return passing the "low-lying" hamlets , starting with Sant’Antonio with its beautiful square which faces the oratory and the building of the former elementary school which has now become one of the stops of the G.T.A , then Ca' Verno, Ca' Morca and Ca' Piacenza, to reach Ca'di Janzo again, the starting point of the route.

A walk through history and nature, to know the town where the Sacro Monte was build


From Alagna to Varallo by car  (36 km). Enter the town at the secon exit. You will reach the centre where are many parking places.

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The visit of the Historic centre begins from piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, dominated by the clear mass of the collegiate church of San Gaudenzio. A first sacellum was most probably built during the upper Middle Ages when the cult of San Gaudenzio, first bishop of Novara, was widely diffused in a place that according to some was already consecrated by pagan gods. Between the end of the 16th  century and the 18th  century the church was enlarged and the result is a great complex in Baroque-Rococo style that, preserves only a part of the Romanesque bell-tower, the expansive arcade and majestic stairway built during the first phases. A luxurious doorway leads to the inside, an articulated nave with a deep apse and an eight side chapel, where together with other valuable works of art, a polyptych by Gaudenzio Ferrari is preserved.

Taking corso Roma on the right you reach the ex convent of the Ursuline nuns, dating back to the XVII century, but  remodeled extensively during the course of the years. It used to be a silk mill, a location for laboratories and workshops, a beer factory and today it is used as a private home, hotel and business. Of the age-old monastery only the characteristic cloister, located inside, remains.

Numerous 19th century houses face the tree-lined street and the adjacent streets, each distinguished by a different architectural style. One of these is Villa Durio, prestigious location for Varallo's Town Hall.

Returning to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, from where, at the end of the XIX century, the town theatre was built, you take via Umberto I, entering the heart of the city centre. One can admire arcades, courtyards, balconies, portals and frescoes that bear witness to the different ages of the village's history: narrow medieval street but also elegant homes of the rich and frequent results of modifications carried out on age-old buildings. Interesting examples of this civil architecture are palazzo Racchetti (town library) built in the 18th  century and the ex prison Mandamentali, built in the 19th  century. This part of the village was occupied by artisans with their shops. The imposing façade of palazzo Baldissari Pitti with balconies and elegant Baroque decorations rises on via Alberganti.

Crossing the bridge on the Mastallone river, you reach palazzo sacrignini D'Adda. It was built during the the mid 16th  century and now it's a prestigious congress centre. Right in front of the building is the church of san Giacomo. As of the 16th  century the church is the head-office of the fraternity of the Holy Trinity whose members work in the town hospital established by don Giuseppe Maio. Going up the Mastallone river you reach the church of San'Antonio built at the end of the 19th  century. A short distance away, in a place once completely isolated from the town centre is the little church of San Pietro Martire that preserves a few 15th  century frescoes, which are unfortunately greatly damaged.

Returning to the oldest part of the village and going up via Ravelli, you reach piazza Ferrari. In the middel of the square stands a monument dedicated to an artist, the most famous of the Varallo citizens, the painter and sculptor Gaudenzio Ferrari and on the right, the house where Gaudenzio lived until 1528. The portico of the Franciscan complex of Santa Maria delle Grazie faces the square. Whilst during the course of centuries the convent underwent reductions and important modifications, the church, built by the will of friar Bernardino Caimi between 1486 and 1493, still preserves its original aspect and is a national monument. Inside the space of only one nave is divided into two parts, one only for the friars, and the other to the faithful. And it is right on this wall that Gaudenzio Ferrari left one of the most important artistic evidence of all his artwork: the fresco entitled Stories of the life of Jesus that takes up the entire surface. On the lower part of the dividing wall, three arches give access to the presbytery, dominated by the massive dimensions of the wooden altar with two chapels.

The one on the right entitled to Santa Margherita, preserves a few valuable frescoes of Gaudenzio.  Along the road to Varallo from Borgosesia where once was open countryside is another interesting little rural church which is incorporated in a town neighborhood today. It is the church of San Marco built during the end of the 14th  century and destined for the rogation procession. The current building is the result of enlargements, carried out in an unknown period, maybe to welcome pilgrims that would arrive in Varallo to visit the Sacro Monte. In the south access to the village is the church of Madonna di Loreto. The current chapel was built during the 15th century and enriched with lodges built in the following century. All the surfaces are decorated with colorful frescoes. Of particular interest is the lunette with the Nativity scene of Gaudenzio Ferrari on the outside and The Stories of Saint Gioacchino, attributed to Giulio Cesare Luini on the inside.

The 19th  century building is also the location of the picture gallery and Museum. It is the first nucleus of the picture gallery that was created in 1887 and was enriched over the years with thanks to purchases and donations creating an important collection of paintings, frescoes, sculptures and drawings today. The gallery fully describes the artistic talent in Valsesia between the XV and XIX century, with particular attention to the building of the Sacro Monte and to all the artistic and artisan phenomena related to it.

On the second floor is the Calderini Museum of Natural History that also boasts incunabola and parchments of notable interest. Near it the Scaglia Museum faces piazza San Carlo. It's a rare example of a house museum dedicated to the paintings and human aspects of Cesare Scaglia (1866-1944).

The Sacro Monte

On a verdant rock behind the town, whose magnificent view induces meditation and prayer, Bernardino Caimi established the Sacro Monte (HolyMountain) at the end of the fifteenth century. It continued to grow over the centuries until reaching its great current dimension: 45 chapels and over 800 sculptures in terracotta and polychrome wood. The rocky outcrop was terraced in order to create a better architectural combination, strictly created with local material such as “beola” the Loreto stone and the green marble of Cilimo. Exotic species of plants were planted together with native ones thus creating a very particular landscape and the result of the wise introduction of humans in a valuable natural environment, which today is safe-guarded by a Special Natural Reservation, established in 1980.


It was during the end of the 15th century when the Franciscan friar Bernardino Caimi gave life to the construction of the complex, the oldest in Northern Italy, with the collaboration of numerous architects, artists and artisans over the course of the centuries. The personality that artistically dominates the initial phase of the construction is that of Gaudenzio Ferrari, born in the nearby town of Valduggia but quite tied to Varallo where he kept some of his most important works of art. He is given credit for, apart from the projects of numerous chapels, the sculptures of Bethlehem, of the Crucifixion and those of the Ascent to the praetorium. The expansive Renaissance style of some of the rooms betrays the intervention of the Perugian architect Galeazzo Alessi during the 16th century. During the 17th century the new Counter-Reformation period the construction was given a more theatrical emphasis like the exaltation of Christ's suffering during the Passion. The decoration works of the Sacro Monte continued up until the middle of the XIX century when the façade of the church was built. The Sacro Monte may be comfortably reached by cableway that departs from via Ferrari but it is recommended to go on foot, in order to fully experience the religious significance, and walk through the luxuriant beech woods, along the route lined with 5 chapels.

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