Dedicated to the Black Madonna, the Sanctuary of Oropa represents the fulcrum of a path that combines history, devotion, nature and traditions.
Many go there on foot, according to the ancient custom of pilgrims. Others brave the slopes of the road and reach it by bicycle, conquering the goal bend after bend. But you can do like me, who every year gets there comfortably by car, without losing any of the overwhelming magic that surrounds this place. Yes, because the majestic and spectacular Sanctuary of Oropa, located in a natural basin at an altitude of 1200 meters, is one of those timeless places, where the heart seems to dilate and breathe again.
Dedicated to the Black Madonna and located a dozen kilometers from Biella, the grandiose complex of Oropa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is part of the system of the Sacred Mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy.
According to tradition, the first buildings were built as early as the fourth century by Sant'Eusebio, bishop of Vercelli: two churches of a hermitic character were a fundamental point of reference for travelers who passed through the Aosta Valley. Over the centuries, the development of the Sanctuary has undergone several transformations until it reached the grandiose dimensions that render us speechless today. It was above all the greatest Savoy architects, including Juvarra and Guarini, who contributed to the construction of all the buildings built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The imposing Upper Basilica, consecrated in 1960, dominates from above two large squares surrounded by ancient cloisters, connected by a monumental staircase and the splendid Porta Regia. But the true spiritual heart of the Sanctuary is represented by the Ancient Basilica which dates back to the 17th century, when the city of Biella built it following a vote after a terrible plague epidemic.
As I walk towards the interior of the church, some of the legends that have flourished around these places come to mind: it is said, for example, that the statue of the Black Madonna, despite the passage of time, does not show traces of wear and tear or woodworm. Even the foot has been preserved intact (although faithful and sick have caressed it for centuries), while on the face of the Virgin and Child, miraculously, the dust never settles.
But the visit to the sanctuary is not the only thing we can do in Oropa: those who want to breathe high altitude air, without making an excessive effort, can take advantage of the spectacular cable car that goes up to Mount Mucrone and represents an incredible resource for mountain enthusiasts. In a few minutes you can reach the Savoia Refuge and the Mucrone lake, while the gaze broadens over the plain and the Alps. Another opportunity for fun is the «Oropa Adventure Park», a large area equipped with platforms, stairs, pegs, lianas, obstacles and Tibetan bridges scattered in the typical forest of fir and beech trees, just behind the Sanctuary.
Thus, poised between the sacred and the profane, between excursions and prayer, between soul and body, Oropa gives us an experience of serenity, where art and nature merge, the spirit is regenerated and the body is refreshed.