I'm not sure when I first heard or read about the Sacra di San Michele, a 1100-year-old monastery located upon the rocky top of a mountain west of Turin at the entrance of the Susa Valley. But I know I've wanted to see it for a long time, perhaps since first seeing the 1986 movie, "The Name of the Rose" with Sean Connery. Yesterday, that desire was fulfilled.
Three of us Salt Lakers from the wine tour we completed yesterday are departing early tomorrow morning for home, but before we do so, we arranged to rent a car and hire a guide to see San Michele yesterday afternoon and to head up to the Aosta Valley today.
The weather was threatening rain and thunderstorms as we headed west from Turin. On a clear day, we would have been able to see range after range of mountains. This, alas, was not to be. We were disappointed, yet hopeful that we could at least visit the monastery without being caught in a downpour and perhaps see at least some of the dramatic setting that has made the monastery famous.
We were lucky.
Like that other famous medieval monastery dedicated to the cult of Saint Michael--Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy in France--the Sacra di San Michele is built into the rocks that formed the summit of Mount Pirchiriano. The legends surrounding the founding of the Sacra tell a story of angels carrying building materials to the summit where a hermit built the first church edifice. The rocky top itself was considered sacred, selected by God himself for construction of a site to honor his archangel, Michael.
|The monastery was constructed of two different kinds of stone, the colors|
of which are clearly visible in this photograph.
|Scalone dei Morti ("Stairway of the Dead") leading to the "Zodiac Door,"|
considered to be a masterwork of medieval sculpture.
|Capital of column forming part of the Zodiac Door,|
showing Cain killing Abel.
|Portal to the main church, dating to the early 11th Century.|
|A volunteer guide came up and introduced himself to us in the sanctuary. He was very friendly,|
welcoming us in English. He was born in Denmark, but has lived in Italy longer than I've been alive.
|Our guide, Piermaria|
The inside of the church inside the monastery was decorated with a number of frescos, all dating to around 1500. The artistry was a bit crude in some cases, but they became interesting as Piermaria explained various elements of symbolism, etc.
|This fresco depicted Mary "falling asleep" in death, then ascending into heaven.|
Seeing the inside of the church was interesting, but what was truly spectacular about the visit to the monastery was stepping outside to take in the spectacular views up and down the Susa Valley and to the mountains across the valley. Even though the skies were cloudy and the lighting was dull, it was still amazing.
As we started our drive back down the mountain, we came to a place in the road where there was a gap in the trees, revealing a dramatic view of the Sacra in its mountain setting. We were not privileged to see the full drama of that view on a crystal clear day, but what we did see was still rewarding. None of us regretted making the trip.