The magnificent religious complex Sacra di San Michele is one of the top attractions in Italy Piedmont, half an hour from Turin. The legend has it that angels assisted with its construction and the exact date of its completion remains unclear, sometime in the 12th century.
As you approach the abbey, it raises imposingly above the Val di Susa. For a more dramatic introduction to the Sacra, walk up the steep road from Sant’Ambrogio, the town at the foot of the Mount Pirchiriano, on top of which the abbey sits.
Around the end of the 10th century a hermit, St. John Vincent, came to live here. One day, the official story goes, the Count Hugh of Montboissier, a rich and noble Lord of Auvergne, came to him. Seeking absolution from his sinful past, the Count had been to Rome and Pope Sylvester II told him that as an act of atonement Hugh of Montboissier should be exiled for seven years or build an abbey instead. After a long conversation with the hermit, the sinful Lord of Auvergne began the monastery construction with five Benedictine monks being assigned to establish the community. The abbey enjoyed autonomy and authority until the mid-14th century. Then, due to complex political games it slowly lost its sway and was abandoned for over two centuries. In 1836, King Charles Albert of Savoy invited the charitable Rosminian Fathers to establish a stable religious congregation at the Sacra di San Michele and they still run the abbey.
The main entrance is reached via a steep set of steps, called the Great Staircase of the Dead, that brings to a grand, 41 metres high façade hovering over your head. In the niches on the walls, skeletons of monks were displayed until 1936, which inspired the morbid name.
Walking through the monumental complex of the Sacra di San Michele you will see how the solid rocks of Mount Pirchiriano were incorporated in the construction: some of the lower level rooms have walls that are entirely natural rock. Thanks to this unique original look and the breathtaking views from its terraces the Abbey can be considered one of the top attractions in Italy. The Sacra is open all year around and during summer months there are excellent concerts held in the basilica.
Photos by: Pietro Izzo, Brant Wang, Marco Frattola.