Oratory of Saint Thomas
Located on an approximately one kilometer (0.6 mile) high ground, the small church of Saint Thomas dates back to around the year one thousand. Tradition has it that the oratory, most likely constructed on the ruins of even older religious structures, was sanctioned by the evangelist Saints Julius and Julian, who arrived in this region at the end of the fourth century from the Greek island of Aegina.
The building is oriented to East and has only one room, with a gabled façade and a single semi-circular apse marked on the outside by pilasters and a pair of hanging arches. Until 1910, a bell tower rose up from the left side of the church; it was torn down because it was unsafe. In 1917 the architect Carlo Nigra, with his great love of ancient structures, became involved in the restoration of the church, a job which sought to improve the visible elevation of the masonry and the repairing of the roof. During the 1980s the clay floor was replaced by the stone you see today and the granite monolith was placed near the altar.
Around the year 2000, the apse cover was resurfaced and the frescoes were restored (following the previous restoration in 1971). The presence of some Roman era elements inside the church confirms the fact that it was not only a gathering place during the imperial age, but also that it was already considered sacred (albeit pagan). It is speculated that a temple dedicated to the god Jupiter stood here, and that most likely a road connecting the lake to middle and lower Novara passed quite near to the church.
Entering the small oratory, you will be struck by the beauty and richness of the paintings that adorn the walls of the apse area. In the Byzantine style, the subjects of the paintings become stylized, elegant figures, exemplified in their simple but communicative gestures, which are quite expressive thanks to a few precise, fluid brushstrokes that make use exclusively of green, red, and yellow-earth tones, with white used to emphasize and illuminate some details.
Of great artistic interest is the series of frescoes in the apse and on the triumphant arch, which date back to the years when the church was being built and shortly thereafter. At the center of the cylindrical apse between the two window slots you can see the figures of the Virgin and Saint Peter: the Madonna’s hands are raised in front of her chest with the palms turned out to the observers in an act of prayer, while Peter holds the key to Paradise in his hands. On the left wall three apostles are depicted, with Saint Andrew identifiable in the middle; to his left there are four others, grouped in pairs, almost appearing engaged in conversation with one another.
In the basin of the apse, inserted in a cornice with three geometric stripes, you can see inside the “almond” – a symbol of emanating light – the sharp-faced Christ in Majesty. This is the traditional iconographic pairing: the precious Savior stands contained within the almond that places him at the center of the scene, as well as at the center of human history. In the foremost position, the motionless figure of Christ takes on a solemn, majestic air. The usual symbols of the four evangelists surround the almond to complete the scene: Matthew’s winged man with Mark’s lion to the left, and John’s eagle with the Luke’s ox to the right. These images suggest the spreading of the Gospel to the four corners of the world.
Above Christ on the triumphant arc, the arch-angels Michael and Gabriel point towards the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in a central tondo. These figures stand out thanks to the refinement of the brushstrokes used to create them and the accuracy with which their clothes are depicted, highlighted by thin lines that emphasize their rich fabrics.
Finally, we see the figures of Saints Julius (only part of the inscription bearing his name remains) and Julian on the piers, an homage to the evangelists of our region who were the first, undisputed symbols of faith.
Closed but open to visitors upon request.