Tag Archives: sanctuary

The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

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santa_caterina_sasso1[1]While on a private boat tour of Lago Maggiore on Day 3 of our Italy – Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour, we will have the opportunity to explore this very ancient and beautiful sanctuary, Santa Caterina del Sasso, perched precipitously on the side of a cliff.  It is located a few miles north of the town in which my parents grew up and it wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to actually visit this magical place.  The sanctuary sits on a cliff above the eastern shore of the lake, and it is best accessible by boat.  We accessed it by road, but we had to climb down (and then eventually back up) from the parking lot.  The climb was a bit arduous, but the result of being able to explore this extraordinary place was beyond compare.  My mom used to tell me that the lake’s depth here at the sanctuary is the deepest in the entire lake and that there are rumors of sunken treasure which no one has ever been able to recover due to the great depth.  Who knows if this legend is true, but it just adds to the mysticism here.  The sanctuary is home to a small group of Domincian friars, after having been part of the Carmelite order of monks for many years.  The church has recently been restored, and the frescoes have been cleaned and brought to light after many years of being hidden beneath rubble and dirt.

The story of the this sanctuary and how it came to be are enchanting.  The story goes that a certain rich merchant by the name of Albert Besozzi, while crossing the lake during a storm in 1170, capsized his boat near the rocky shores of the stone cliff.  He clung to the rocks and prayed to Santa Caterina to save him.  He promised that if his life were spared, he would build a santuary to the saint and live the rest of his days as a hermit.  His life was saved, and he kept his promise by devoting his life to her.  It is believed that several miracles happened here, all due to the intervention of Santa Caterina.  The evidence of one of these miracles can still be evidenced today, and I was fortunate to see it.  During a rock slide in the 17th century, a huge boulder came off the cliffs and was destined to destroy the altar and Alberto Besozzi’s tomb.  Miraculously, the rock was lodged above the altar and never came down to destroy it.  The site is still evident today, with that part of the chapel being kept unrestored so that the miraculous recovery can be seen.

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Strolling along the arches and gazing out at Monte Rosa in the distance, you can see how this very scenic piece of coastline would lend itself to a life of devotion and prayer by the faithful.  Experiencing the silence, only interrupted by the sounds of the lapping waves on the rocks, was a moment that will stay with me forever as I remember the shores of the lake that is such a part of my core.

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Simple and Peaceful….

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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!!

The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

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A few miles north of the town in which my parents grew up sits the beautiful sanctuary of Santa Caterina del Sasso.  It wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to actually visit this magical place.  The sanctuary sits on a cliff above the eastern shore of the lake, and it is best accessible by boat.  We accessed it by road, but we had to climb down (and then eventually back up) from the parking lot.  The climb was a bit arduous, but the result of being able to explore this extraordinary place was beyond compare.  My mom used to tell me that the lake’s depth here at the sanctuary is the deepest in the entire lake and that there are rumors of sunken treasure which no one has ever been able to recover due to the great depth.  Who knows if this legend is true, but it just adds to the mysticism here.  The sanctuary is home to a small group of Domincian friars, after having been part of the Carmelite order of monks for many years.  The church has recently been restored, and the frescoes have been cleaned and brought to light after many years of being hidden beneath rubble and dirt. 

The story of the this sanctuary and how it came to be are enchanting.  The story goes that a certain rich merchant by the name of Albert Besozzi, while crossing the lake during a storm in 1170, capsized his boat near the rocky shores of the stone cliff.  He clung to the rocks and prayed to Santa Caterina to save him.  He promised that if his life were spared, he would build a santuary to the saint and live the rest of his days as a hermit.  His life was saved, and he kept his promise by devoting his life to her.  It is believed that several miracles happened here, all due to the intervention of Santa Caterina.  The evidence of one of these miracles can still be evidenced today, and I was fortunate to see it.  During a rock slide in the 17th century, a huge boulder came off the cliffs and was destined to destroy the altar and Alberto Besozzi’s tomb.  Miraculously, the rock was lodged above the altar and never came down to destroy it.  The site is still evident today, with that part of the chapel being kept unrestored so that the miraculous recovery can be seen. 

Strolling along the arches and gazing out at Monte Rosa in the distance, you can see how this very scenic piece of coastline would lend itself to a life of devotion and prayer by the faithful.  Experiencing the silence, only interrupted by the sounds of the lapping waves on the rocks, was a moment that will stay with me forever as I remember the shores of the lake that is such a part of my core.