La Darbia blog

A THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY

Thu, 22 August 2019
A THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY
This is the extraordinary story of the Sacra di San Michele, perched on a rock spur, on the border between the Alps and the plain. There is a place in Piedmont that you don't expect to find. A magical and surreal place, a mysterious and almost fairy-tale site that takes us directly back to the ..
This is the extraordinary story of the Sacra di San Michele, perched on a rock spur, on the border between the Alps and the plain. 

There is a place in Piedmont that you don't expect to find. A magical and surreal place, a mysterious and almost fairy-tale site that takes us directly back to the Middle Ages. 

As if to challenge the principles of physics and the laws of gravity, the abbey of San Michele, built at the entrance of the Val di Susa in the 10th century, rises precipitously on the summit of Mount Pirchiriano. The impact that this ancient monastery generates on the visitor's eye is, to say the least, astounding: even in the distance, the building appears in all its hermitic grandeur, steeped in spirituality and fascinating for its millenary history.  

Dedicated to the cult of the Archangel Michael, defender of the Christian people, the Sacra is inserted within a pilgrimage route over two thousand kilometers long that goes from Mont Saint-Michel, in France, to Monte Sant’Angelo, in Puglia. It's actual creation is attributed to a character who came to Italy in search of redemption from a questionable past: he was Count Hugh of Montboissier, rich and noble lord of Auvergne. Having gone to Rome to request indulgence from the Pope, the count received, by way of penance, the possibility of choosing between a seven-year exile and the undertaking of erecting an abbey. 

Thus it was that at the end of the 900s construction of the monastery began, later entrusted to the management of five Benedictine monks and soon became an important stopping point for pilgrims of high social order, almost an international cultural center. 

I seem to hear the solemn music of the Carmina Burana in the background while I walk the suggestive Scalone dei Morti and through the Portal of the Zodiac, while I admire the main façade, more than forty meters high, and I pause to observe capitals with symbolic figures and column bases decorated with griffins. Disturbing figures derived from medieval legends seem to look at me from afar: women nursing snakes, newts and devils, biblical characters mixed with esoteric symbols. 

Not to mention the many legends that surround the Sacra from time immemorial: it is said, for example, that a young woman named Alda, to escape the soldiers of fortune, threw herself from a tower and was saved by two angels who brought her to the ground unharmed. However, unable to overcome the temptation to recount the miracle that had occurred and not being believed by the local people, Alda tried the venture again. This time, however, the angels, to punish her pride, did not help her and the young woman died crashing on the rocks below.  

Drama and asceticism, history and legend, present and past therefore merge in this wonderful place. 

The charm of the Sacra is certainly incredible, capable of instilling mystical suggestions, especially when the monastery appears proud above the fog that envelops the valley, or kissed by a silvery light on full moon evenings or, still cloaked in snow during the harsh winters.

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