SAN GIULIO, THE DRAGON AND THE NUNS' BREAD

We, 27 January 2016
SAN GIULIO, THE DRAGON AND THE NUNS' BREAD
A feeling of festivity fills the air in the little town of Orta towards the end of January. For what reason? The answer is simple: the celebrations for Saint Giulio, the cherished patron of the town and protector of all the builders in the entire Cusio area. The exact day dedicated to the saint (a..

A feeling of festivity fills the air in the little town of Orta towards the end of January. For what reason? The answer is simple: the celebrations for Saint Giulio, the cherished patron of the town and protector of all the builders in the entire Cusio area. The exact day dedicated to the saint (and the builders from the riviera) is the 31st of the month, when the doors of the contemplative cloister on the island remain open for the customary distribution of «Saint Giulio's bread» produced by the nuns.

Many pilgrims are to be encountered throughout the day having come to Orta to assist at the mass on the island's Basilica or to take part in the procession along the island's only pedestrian passageway, which skirts the monastery. Another indispensable part of the ceremony is the blessing of the builders' implements, followed by a bountiful lunch and the traditional sale of a lamb by auction.

According to the legend, Saint Giulio, a christian preacher of Greek origin, came to the area around the lake Orta with his brother Giuliano for the purpose of converting the people and building new churches. While Giulio had a sacred building erected in Gozzano in honour of Saint Lawrence, Giulio headed in the direction of the little island opposite Orta to have his hundredth and final church built.

Several evocative stories are told about this illustrious character: in fact, it is said that prior to his arrival the island was nothing but a rock, inhabited by snakes and a monstrous dragon. In about 390 Giulio spread his cloak out and braved the waters of the lake, venturing into the storm guided by his stick. He defeated the monster and drove the snakes away and then began the building of the basilica where his remains still repose.

The church sacresty safeguards a rather incredible object: a vertebra belonging to a dragon, which is concrete proof that the legend may contain an element of truth. However, we cannot be absolutely certain that this big bone actually came from a monster, it could be the remains of the skeleton of an animal. Nonetheless, it is quite an amazing concidence.

Looking down upon it from the soft hills of La Darbia, the island appears as a peaceful, sacrosanct oasis, perhaps because Saint Giulio is really watching over it while the sisters are kneading the dough for their blessed bread.

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