The Sacro Monte of Varallo is the work of two great churchmen and of a number of artists headed by Gaudenzio Ferrari. The two churchmen are: the Franciscan friar, Blessed Bernardino Caìmi, and St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan. At Varallo Fra Bernardino Caìmi put into practice the idea that he had been turning over in his mind during his stay in the Holy Land.
His aim was to erect buildings that would recall the "holy places" of Palestine, those places which evoke the characteristic monuments of Christ's stay on earth (the Stable at Bethlehem, the House in Nazareth, the Last Supper, Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre). He began his work in 1491 and carried on with it as long as he lived (i. e. until the end of 1499), assisted by Gaudenzio Ferrari who continued the idea and decorated a number of Kapelles with frescos and statues.
St. Charles Borromeo appreciated the work already done when he paid a visit to the Sacro Monte in 1578 and, giving the place the appropiate name of "New Jerusalem", made it more widely known among his contemporaries. Returning there at the end of October 1584, he decided to develop the idea by building new Kapelles which would illustrate the work of Jesus more completely.
For the great Bishop of Milan it was an effective means of his time, giving them greater religious fervour and protecting them from the heresies that threatened northern Italy. He utilised the project for the rearrangement of the Sacro Monte drawn up by Arch. Galeazzo Alessi in 1592 and, adapting it to his own plan, gave instructions for the resumption of work.
The work continued until 1765. During this century and a half new artists added their names to Gaudenzio Ferrari's: Morazzone, Tanzio, the Fiamminghini and the Danedi where painting was concerned; Giovanni d'Enrico and Tabacchetti for sculputure, to mention only the most noted of them. St. Charles Borromeo's idea and the efforts which derived from it made the Sacro Monte of Varallo the prototype of those other Sacri Monti that arose in the area during the 17th century (Sacri Monti of Orta, Varese, Oropa, Crea and Locarno).
Today the Sacro Monte of Varallo continues to be a school of Christian thruth and life, while at the same time it is the most precious treasury of art in Valsesia. Varallo Sesia, a pretty tourist resort situated at the confluence of the River Sesia and the mountain stream of Mastellone, is proud of its climate and its art treasures. Loreto, s.Marco, S. Gaudenzio, the Madonna delle Grazie, S. Giacomo and the Palace of Museum are the finest evidence of the good taste of the people of Valsesia.
It is a tradition that on Sunday in May the various parishes of Valsesia go and pay homage to the Madonna of the Sacro Monte. On these occasions the most beatiful costumes in the valley are worn.