26 November 2011

Isola San Giulio – Italy’s Fairy Tale Island

Isola San Giulio is like something out of a fairy tale. The island situated on Lake Orta in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy is tiny – a mere 275 meters in length by 140 meters wide. A beautiful collection of lay and religious houses cram its tiny confines. It is so picturesque that it makes the jaw drop, almost in disbelief. It has an interesting story too.

Legend has it that St Guilio (or Julius of Novara in English) founded his one hundredth church here in the fourth century AD. It is just west of the charming village of Orta San Giulio (also named after Julius of Novara). The island was the lair of a giant serpent, which used the island as a launch pad to attack local villages. Yet St Guilio arrived and with his ability to command the waves he journeyed over the water on his cloak and banished the creature from the island.

Since then the island has always been connected with religion.  After St Giulio’s death a small chapel was erected on the island in the fifth century (this was after the Christian religion was decriminalized by the powers that be in Rome and persecution had ended). Archeology has revealed a much bigger church there in the sixth century.

A baptistery was also established in the middle of the island at about the same time. Yet in the nineteenth century a seminary was built there, erasing any record of its existence.  For the last three decades it has been a Benedictine monastery. There is an air of peace over the entire island, perhaps because of the presence of this contemplative institution.

Almost all who visit this miniature island are enthralled, but there is more to take pleasure in and admire here than stunning views and the appeal of an ancient Italian village. The church is a treasure house of art works covering a number of centuries. Plus the boat fare to the island is inexpensive.  Little wonder that many Italian couples choose this fairy tale destination to be the scene of their wedding.