The Island of San Giulio – the only one in Lake Orta, in the province of Novara – is “coquettish and simple, natural yet ornate, solitary and in good company” – according to the description rendered by Honoré de Balzac’s in 1836, during his stay in this wonderful corner of Piedmont.
With all of its semantic contrasts, the triple oxymoron perfectly expressed the image the great French writer had of this piece of lakeside land, barely 300 by 150 meters.
Since 1973, the profile of the Mater Ecclesiae Abbey stands out on the island. The Benedictine nuns who live there restore tapestries and antique fabrics, make liturgical vestments and icons, and write spiritual and patristic compositions.
The island is also home to a beautiful Romanesque basilica with a magnificent 11th-century pulpit in black marble, dedicated to Saint Julius. According to an ancient tradition, in the end of the 4th century the Greek holy man fought off the snakes and horrible monsters who inhabited the island. Today his name has been given to the island as well as to the municipality of Orta San Giulio, some 400 meters away on the lake.
Italian author Piero Chiara (1913-1986) once compared the Island of San Giulio to Dante’s Purgatory, “hesitant between water and sky”.
After visiting this unique place, you will certainly find the best adjectives and similes to describe the island on your own terms.