Santa Caterina del Sasso Hermitage – Photo © epmd
Perpendicular to Lake Maggiore, the Monastery is composed of three distinct parts, placed along a rocky ridge.
Through the front gate you enter the southern part of the monastery and walk along an arcade with a beautiful view of the lake.
A little yard housing a wooden press dating from 1759 leads you to the “conventino” and then a church of Romanesque origin.
Wooden press – Photo © andrichrose
The building has a peculiar structure, the result of the fusion of three chapels which were once originally separate.
The paintings are beautiful, in particular the ones from the 14th century in the church and in the Capitular Hall.
According to the legend the monastery was founded by Alberto Besozzi of Arolo, a loan-shark who survived a shipwreck by intercession of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in 1770 and retired to a hermit’s life on the Sasso Ballaro.
Photo © epmd
The three chapels built in subsequent times soon became the destination of pilgrimage and the place itself was considered miraculous.
The miracle of the beginning of the 18th century is well-known: five enormous rocks fell on the church but they were entangled in a chapel’s vault and hung there for almost two centuries, until 1910.
The monument faced ups and downs over the centuries, between splendor and decadence, until its abolition in 1769. A long period of carelessness and negligence followed, finally stopped by a long restoration which also allowed the return of a monastic community.
Presently occupied by the Dominicans, the same order, that first erected it in the 14th cent., the tiny convent, was later occupied by other religious orders.
Santa Caterina del Sasso Hermitage
Photo © epmd
St. Catherine’s Sanctuary is easily reached by lake with the boats departing from Stresa. With the low season the Santa Caterina del Sasso stop is skipped, so check the most recent schedule before going. The convent is accessible all year around with a car from the Lombardy side of Lake Maggiore. The Sanctuary can also be reached by car from the Lombardy side of the lake, from the town of Leggiuno.
Be prepared to climb some stairs: if you come from the lake there are 88 steps to reach the Hermitage, if instead you come with a car there are 288 steps to descend (and climb back on your way out).