The giant statue of San Carlo Borromeo stands near the town of Arona, close to the southern end of Lake Maggiore. The local people call it the “Sancarlone” (“Big St Charles”), and it is the symbol of the town.
This huge statue, erected in honour of the well-loved saint, who was born in Arona, is full of significance, and exemplifies a particular kind of religious faith which finds its expression in the outsize. San Carlo seems to look on his people kindly but severely; his head slightly inclined, the Saint blesses his native town with his right hand raised, while in his left hand he holds the great book of laws of the Milanese church.
Erected between 1614 and 1697 to a design by Giovanni Battista Crespi, the statue consists of a core made of masonry and an iron and wood framework covered with copper sheeting; the head and the hands are made of bronze. At 23.40 metres high, plus the 11.70 metres of granite pedestal, the statue is one of the biggest in the world. You can climb up inside the statue right to the massive head, from where the view out over the lake is exceptional.
The statue stands on a hill with a Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) inspired by significant episodes in the life of the saint, culminating with the colossal statue. Unfortunately, the Via Crucis was not completed due to problems connected with the spread of epidemics, wars and famine, so that in the end only three chapels were built, along with a church and a seminary.
The 17th century church is an imposing Baroque building; the devotees of San Carlo have reconstructed in its interior the “Room of the three lakes”, the room in the Rocca of Arona where the saint was born in 1538. At the sides of the Altar, wall cabinets with carved wooden doors contain the relics of the saint, his death mask and cloths stained with his blood, saved during his embalming.