Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso
The harmony of a dance suspended between the rocks and the lake
What it is and where it is
Perched on a sheer cli ff face above Lake Maggiore is the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, a splendid church whose history dates back to the 12th century. 268 steps separate the Piazzale del Quiquio di Leggiuno from the Renaissance portico, overlooking the Borromean Gulf, Stresa and the islands, that leads to the entrance. A destination for the faithful and pilgrims, the Hermitage represents the fusion of three chapels built in different eras, in which different painting cycles and striking stained glass windows coexist.
Why it is special
What makes the Hermitage special is the striking combination of architecture and landscape. The walk through the portico, whose arches frame the magnificent lake panorama, prepares the visitor to admire the beauty of the church, illuminated by the outside light with ever-changing and special effects thanks to the stained glass windows. Santa Caterina al Sasso is a true oasis of wonder and serenity, a jewel not to be overlooked.
Not to be missed
At the end of the nave of the Church stands the oldest part of the building, the shrine of St. Catherine. The heart of the shrine, dating back to 1195, it was built with the same dimensions as St. Catherine's tomb on Sinai and enriched, over time, with frescoes narrating episodes from the Saint's life.Since 1535, the shrine has housed the relics of Blessed Alberto Besozzi, the church's first patron.
A bit of history
The story goes that wealthy merchant Alberto Besozzi, finding himself in the midst of a shipwreck, made a vow of penance to St. Catherine of Egypt in case he managed to save himself. Besozzi survived by clinging to a rock and, on that very stretch of coastline, retired to live as a hermit and had the chapel dedicated to the saint built. This was joined during the 14th century by the Churches of St. Nicholas and Santa Maria Nova. Various religious orders have run the hermitage over the centuries. Today it is managed by the Franciscan Fraternity of Bethany.
The full name of the site is Santa Caterina al Sasso di Ballaro. This definition is due to a particular event that occurred in the early eighteenth century, when five "dancing" boulders fell on the church, remaining, however, embedded in the vault of a chapel and remaining suspended there for nearly two hundred years.