Cultural Italy Blog: Art, Coffee & Love

Hidden in a rock: Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso


Sometimes I wonder if Italy became such an artistically illuminated country thanks to its devotion to religion, or if it was Catholicism to be lucky enough to be found and developed in this country constantly and densely populated by artistic geniuses. In either cases the result is an endless number of masterpieces linked to the Church spread all over the “boot”. Literally endless as none of us will ever be able to see, to visit, or at least to hear about them all.

Nevertheless,with the richness of Italy’s artistic heritage, some of its artworks are better known than others. Some of them are so spectacular that they don’t even seem to be real. They appear as a flash of imagination rather than actual manmade creations. Such as, for example, the ancient monastery perched on a rocky ridge of a steep shore of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy.

Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso is an unbelievable place. It was founded in 1170 by Alberto Besozzi, a merchant who decided to retreat for the rest of his life in prayer and loneliness in a cave of the Maggiore’s shore after having miraculously survived a shipwreck during a crossing of the lake. His mummified body still rests inside the church.

At first he erected a chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt (currently open to public). The chapel, which dates back to the 12th century, was later joined by two other churches, San Nicolao and Santa Maria Nova. Both constructed in the 14th century.

Besides the beauty of Santa Caterina’s architecture, the access of the monastery is a very special thing too. You can reach it from the water. Otherwise, if arriving by foot, a winding stairway counting 268 steps (or if you prefer, a modern elevator) will bring you 52 meters down the rock right to the entrance of the monastery, a hidden by a high cliff place featuring elegant porches and arches and breathtaking lake views that could have easily been a perfect Game of Thrones’ setup. Indeed, just too good to be true…

Maria Novozhilova


twitter: @NovozhilovaM