High atop the Cinque Terre sits the beautiful Santuario della Nosta Signora di Soviore. The view from here is incredibly beautiful, and you can see how it would be a place for contemplation and reflection. Walking paths wind from here down to the town of Monterosso al Mare, as well as to other sanctuaries in the Cinque Terre. In fact,the adventurous hiker can follow the sanctuary trail to reach all the sanctuaries of the Cinque Terre.
This particular sanctuary serves as a sort of hotel, and it is a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of staying in the Cinque Terre. The simple rooms are reached via old archways from the main corridors. They are fairly large and very spartan but with clean sheets and towels. The rooms themselves are clean, but the amenities are a bit on the lacking side. Definitely bring some soap if you stay here! The view from the rooms on the second floor are spectacular, and there is a gentle sea breeze which travels up the canyon into the rooms when the shutters are opened. The dining room is available for simple breakfasts and dinners. The dinners comprise a choice of a few tasty entrees which were very good. There is even a “snack bar” for in between eating! The Ligurian coastline is visible way below you in the distance! The sanctuary church is beautifully frescoed, with a gorgeous organ and lovely chandeliers. In a glass case, at center stage on the altar, is a small wooden statue of the Madonna and Child. This statue was the inspiration for the building of this particular sanctuary so many years ago.
This statue has a very interesting and spiritual story attached to it which I will summarize here:
In 641, when a barbarian invasion threatened the small Etruscan village of Albereto, this simple wooden statue was buried to protect it. It remained buried for about 100 years, when it was discovered by a priest from Monterosso while he was out hunting. The story says that a white dove caught the priest’s attention. He followed the dove which came to rest near a clearing. Upon coming close to the dove, it disappeared underground. Intrigued, the priest began to dig but came upon a large sandstone slab which he could not move. He returned with some laborers to help remove the slab. As the laborers were digging, a sweet smell emanated from the slab as it was removed. A wooden statue of the Madonna and Child was revealed. As they attempted to move the statue, they realized it would not budge. They came back a day later, only to find that the statue was gone. It was found nearby on top of a chestnut tree. They returned it to the place of discovery only to find it moved again a few days later. This happened a few more times, and the only explanation came from the priest’s interpretation of these events – the Madonna was telling them that she wanted her chapel built near the chestnut tree! The present day church is an expansion of that original chapel and it dates to the 1700’s. Laborers passed bricks from hand to hand from the sea in Monterosso all the way up to the Sanctuary to build the new church. The vault was frescoed in 1872 by the priest Mentasti, and it depicts the story of this sacred place.
Sanctuary stays are not for everyone, but if you are looking to stay in a beautiful and quiet location, then it is definitely worth a try. Everyone was very friendly and the experience was very positive. Walking around the grounds at night was magical. The buildings were lit from beneath with a warm glow and the entire place had almost a mystical sense to it. It was even quite romantic….an ideal place for a moonlight stroll!!