Our Lady of Pietralba: the shrine of the men of the mountains
A place so sacred that even spirits visit it on pilgrimage
What it is and where it is
The Shrine of Our Lady of Pietralba is located on the Regglberg plateau in the municipality of Nova Ponente/Deutschnofen, at an altitude of 1520 meters, on the border with Trentino. It is easily reached by car, but there is also a long pilgrimage path that, in about 3 hours' walk, climbs from 400 meters in the town of Laives/Leifers in Val d'Adige, through mountain forests to the shrine. Its white mass developed horizontally to stand out between the earth and the sky, soaring upward with its spires of different shapes and colors.
Why it is special
Not only does the presence of the sanctuary, rebuilt in elegant Baroque forms between the 17th and 18th centuries, give its surroundings a mystical aura of deep peace, but the very area in which the sacred building rises is so rich in color and beauty that the writer Fiorenzo Degasperi described it as "in itself an act of devotion to the Divine."
Not to be missed
The church-convent is surrounded by countless trails that, amid pristine pastures and forests, lead along the plateau to the slopes of the imposing Corno Bianco/Weisshorn (2316 m. whose summit of white Dolomite rock gives the area its name) or, eastward, down into the nearby Fiemme and Fassa valleys. Before engaging in hiking, a visit to the Sanctuary's Baroque church and raising a prayer before the small late-Gothic statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, found in a tree, as the traditional narrative goes, by a local farmer, Leonhard Weissensteiner, cannot be denied.
A bit of history
In 1553 the Virgin appeared to farmer Leonhard Weissensteiner, cured him of a nerve disease and asked him to build her a chapel, but he forgot. It so happened that the farmer fell into a ravine. When he was found, he narrated that he was watched over by the Virgin, who appeared to him again. And this time Leonhard built the chapel, which soon became a pilgrimage destination. So far the popular tradition. From 1654 Pietralba was enlarged and rebuilt in the Baroque style; after a brief decline around 1782, in the early 1800s it again became the spiritual center of attraction it still is today for the people of South Tyrol, Trentino and Agordino.
Entering the church through the main portal, on the ceiling of the women's gallery, one notices a curious fresco telling the legend of the lord of the castle of Cornedo, in Val d'Ega. During a plague, he begged the Virgin to spare his lordship, and so it happened. Forgetful of the grace obtained, the knight returned to a dissipated life. But the Black Death was not long in coming and soon crept into the castle, killing the inhabitants. To fulfill the vow never kept, at midnight every Christmas Eve, a ghostly procession moves from the castle through the entire valley, ending its pilgrimage before the statue of the Virgin of Pietralba.
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