January 31st marks the feast of Saint Julius, the 4th-century Greek preacher who is credited with bringing Christianity to Lake Orta (Lago d’Orta), a Northern Italian lake near where my Italian side of the family lives. When San Giulio arrived the the area, he decided he wanted to build a church on the island that sits in the middle of the lake. When he tried to find a boatman to ferry him over, however, he found that all the locals were too scared to do so, on account of the dragons and serpents then inhabiting the island. Luckily San Giulio was able to miraculously sail to the island on his cloak, whereupon he smote all the pagan beasties and laid the foundations of the basilica that still sits on the island now known as l’Isola di San Giulio. When I was in Italy last summer, I painted this watercolour for my little Italian cousins depicting an imagined moment in which San Giulio vainly attempts to preach the Good News to the island’s reptilian inhabitants, before giving up and deciding to just go ahead and smite them all instead.
However, it appears that one of the island’s original inhabitants was able to escape San Giulio’s holy massacre. This was the creature known as l’Orchera, the Ogress, who reputedly fled the island and took refuge in a cave on the mainland, known as “Il Bus de l’Orchera” (the hole of the Orchess). At some point in the seventeenth century, a gigantic vertebra was found in this cave, and it seems likely that this bone belonged to the Orchera or to another of the island’s monstrous first inhabitants. In the late nineteenth century, a villa was built over the site, but the cave was preserved and incorporated into the house.
In October of this year, the local branch of the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) organized a visit to the Bus de l’Orchera, as well as to the sacristy of the Basilica di San Giulio, where the famous bone is now held. On the initiative of my cousin Chiara, the organizers agreed to display my painting within the cave for the duration of the tour (photo by Chiara Vigoni).
It was only at this point that I found out about the legend of the Orchera, which is far less known than that of the dragons and serpents. I was then inspired to create a watercolour depicting the traumatized Orchera taking refuge in her cave following the destruction of her island home.
Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in Italy, is visible in the distance.
To see some of my sketches of Lake Orta from two summers ago, click here: https://julianpeterscomics.com/2015/07/22/lake-orta-sketchbook/