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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Santa Caterina del Sasso

It was on a stormy night in 1170 that the story of the hermitage and monastery of Santa Catarina del Sasso begins. A rich trader, Alberto Besozzi, was washed from his boat and was saved from certain drowning by the intervention of Santa Caterina. In a gesture of thanks Alberto decides to live out his life as a hermit in the caves built into the rocks, and during his years there he builds the first chapel on the site. Santa Caterina intervened again centuries later, wiping out the plague that had been terrorizing the region. And again in 17th century, when she is said to have stopped a massive rock slide before it crushed the chapel containing the tomb of Alberto. Some like to say the evidence of this last miracle is in plain view inside the small chapel where, over the alter, a large boulder hangs precariously, seemingly frozen in its fall by some invisible means. I won’t ruin the wonder by telling you geological reasons for the rock’s strange state; isn’t it still remarkable that, for whatever reason, here it is hanging impossibly. It’s the super-naturalness of the appearance that matters here after all.

Inside, the monastery has been recently rejuvenated. Fragments of frescoes have been revealed and cleaned, such as the 17th-century "Dance of Death." The beautiful arches and vaulted ceilings have been cleaned. Outside, fig trees, geranium, and oleander grow. Below, hundreds of feet below, the blue waters of Lago Maggiore wash up against the rocks. And far off in the distance is the snow-capped peak of Monte Rosa. Questa e’ la rara bellezza che c’e’ nel Santuario di Santa Caterina. This is the rare beauty that is Santa Caterina.

Santa Caterina del Sasso is in Leggiuno, across Lago Maggiore from Stresa. The best way to approach is from the water, where the visual impact is greater. Perched on a narrow precipice of rock cliff, the monastery looms above. For many centuries this was the only way to approach and enter the monastery. Now you can also approach from the top of the cliff, where you can park your car and walk down almost 300 steps. There is also an elevator between the top and the bottom.

The current structure dates from the 16th century.

Frescoes have been beautifully restored.

Interior view of the main chapel.

Aerial view.

The monastery is currently run by a Dominican order of friars; they sell their produce in the shop on the premises, and it is worth a trip there just to buy these wonderful items. Entrance is free.

From Stresa take the boat to Santa Caterina.


All information and more is on the website: 
http://www.santacaterinadelsasso.com/

updated 2018

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