It is built on a hill overlooking Lago Maggiore near the ancestral castle of the Borromeo family. A series of chapels was planned documenting the life of the saint, forming a Sacro Monte for religious meditation and veneration. Only three were eventually built.
The statue was designed by Giovan Battista Crespi, called Il Cerano, but erected by Siro Zanella of Pavia and Bernardo Falconi of Lugano. It was begun in 1614, soon after St Charles Borromeo's canonization. The 23.4 metre statue is finished with sheets of hammered copper, and joined with bolts. It stands on a granite pedestal, 11.7 metres high. The interior can be accessed by narrow stairs and ladders, allowing visitors to peer through the eyes and ears.