Santa Caterina del Sasso: A hermitage with a unique history

June, 21 2016 ( Updated August, 09 2017)

Lake Maggiore
Historical sight
Overlooking the Borromeo gulf on Lake Maggiore, the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso invites visitors’ interests for its unique location, history and religious importance. The hermitage, which was founded in the 12th century by a merchant Alberto Besozzi of Arolo, is perched on a sheer cliff above the water and presents an intriguing sight on the lake. A visit to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina is highly recommended for anyone visiting Lake Maggiore and can be clubbed with your visit to other such historical monuments like Sacro Monte, Rocca Borromeo and Isola Bella.

The Hermitage comprises of three buildings: the southern convent, the small convent, and the church. According to legend, Alberto Besozzi ordered the construction of the first chapel and dedicated it to Saint Caterina of Egypt after having survived a shipwreck. It is said that Besozzi had invoked Saint Caterina and made a vow of penitence when he was involved in the shipwreck while crossing the lake on one stormy night. He, therefore, retreated to a life of a hermit in the very chapel.
The  church is the fusion of three chapels, originally built separately in three different eras. The other two churches are San Nicola and Santa Maria Nova which were constructed soon after the first chapel. The Hermitage has been a property of the Varese Province administered under the Benedictine Oblate since 1970, and before this, it was managed by the Dominican community.

  • The Hermitage can be reached either by climbing up about 60 steps if you arrive by boat or descend down 240 steps from the car park. These picturesque steps overlook the lake and are one of the best places to appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
  • In the 18th century, five enormous boulders crashed down onto the church, but fortunately, there wasn’t much damage caused because the boulders came to a halt in the vault of the Chapel and remained suspended there till 1910, which is almost two centuries.
  • There is an elevator dug into the rock which takes visitors to the Hermitage. The 45-meter long elevator comes up to a panoramic view of the lake and is an engineering.
  • The chapel bears frescoes which have traces of the 16th-century frescoes  dedicated to Saint Caterina
  • The inner courtyard has four rounded Renaissance-style arches and a 14th-century bell tower which are of special importance.

Useful Information
Opening Hours:
From November to February, only on Saturday, Sunday and holidays: from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 17.00.
From December 23 until January 6: from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 17.00.
March, every day: from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 17.00
From April 1 until June 14: every day from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 18.00
From June 15 until September 15: every day from 9.00 to 18.00
From September 16 until October 31: every day from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 18.00
Entrance is free for all.

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