Places to Visit on your Lake Maggiore Holiday – Santa Caterina del Sasso
Northern Italy is blessed with three relaxing lakes which provide a wonderful chance for some much needed relaxation. However, you want to make the most of your time. If you are staying on Lake Maggiore, it is an easy ferry trip over to Santa Caterina del Sasso, an ancient hermitage built into the rock face. The ferries run fairly often, so worth checking times with your hotel beforehand.
The hermitage has an intriguing story. It is believed that a wealthy local merchant by the name of Alberto Besozzi was sailing across the lake in the middle of a storm. Having survived his ordeal, he vowed to live as a hermit on the lake. As a religious offering for his life being saved, Alberto ordered a chapel which he dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt. This is still visible in the lower part of the church. It is believed that the church originated from the 12th century, however from around the 14th century, Alberto had San Nicola and Santa Maria Nova – two further churches, added to the site.
The Dominicans were the first order to set up residence at Santa Caterina del Sasso, before brothers from the Milan convent of Sant’Abrogio ad Nemus, and later the Carmelites lived and worshipped there.
In the 18th century the site was almost destroyed when five huge boulders crashed into the church, however, fortunately these stopped at the vault of the church. They remained there for almost two centuries, before being removed in 1910. The rocks gave the hermitage its full name of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Santa Maria of the Dancing Rock). The Dominicans are the current inhabitants, returning after 1996.
Having arrived at the hermitage as part of your Lake Maggiore holiday, visit the southern convent, which had to be altered in 1624 when part of the wooden structure collapsed into the lake. There is also the small convent, which still retains some of the original frescos, along with the inner courtyard, built in the Renaissance style. Lastly visit the scenic bell tower with its sheer drop down to the lake, completed around the 14th century. As if all of that is not enough, there is also the incredible view over the lake!
For those arriving by car, the Hermitage is proud to have an elevator built into the rock face, which is 51 metres high and transports up to 12 people at any given time. It is worth noting that if you are arriving by ferry, there are 80 steep steps running up from the lake to the church. These are not suitable for wheelchair users.
A visit to the hermitage is sure to fill at least half a day on your Lake Maggiore holiday.