The Sacra di San Michele, also called St Michael’s Abbey, stands guard over the Val de Susa and is a breathtaking “Symbolic monument of the Piedmont region”
There’s no getting away from the fact that my recent stay in Piemonte was pretty food focused.
After all, we were there to enjoy the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. However, even I have my limits when it comes to food so we took some time one day to visit a remarkable local sight. The Sacra di San Michele (also known as St Michaels Abbey) is located on the very top of Mount Pirchiriano in the Val de Susa and is recognised by regional law as a “Symbolic monument of the Piedmont region”.
It is both an abbey and a church and is perched at the peak of the mountain – in fact the very top part of the mountain was left exposed and can be seen at the base of one of the lofty pillars. Construction is thought to have begun on the complex in the 10th century and for much of it’s history it was a Benedictine establishment, but is now under the care of an order called the Rosminians. The noted (and some say impenetrable) mystery novel “The Name of the Rose”, by Umberto Eco, was inspired by the abbey.
The church towers over the surrounding valley and is accessed by a long climb up countless stairs. (I’m sure someone has counted them – I was too busy trying to breathe.) At the top of the first 243 steps, ominously named “The Stairway of the Dead” where, until recent times, the skeletons of monks were visible in niches and arches, is the marble Porta dello Zodiaco, a masterpiece of 12th century sculpture.
Further up from this is the church, which features both Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Also on the site is the ruins of a 12-15th century monastery, including the Torre della Bell’Alda (“Tower of the Beautiful Alda”).
The story goes that the beautiful Alda was being set upon by a lecherous mercenary soldier and, in order to escape his clutches, she leapt from the tower only to be saved by a passing angel. Unfortunately for Alda, when she was recounting the miracle later, she leapt again to prove her story true – but the angel was tragically absent the second time around.
The views from the church and abbey are incomparable and all that stair climbing and hoofing around made my thoughts turn back to food, so on the way back into Turin we stopped at a lakeside restaurant for a feed. After all, a girl’s got to eat.