The Sacra di San Michele, divine altitude
The Sacra di San Michele, in Piedmont’s Val di Susa, was defined by the poet Clemente Rebora “summit steeped in holiness”.
An overwhelming impact for those who find themselves in front of the forty-one-meter-tall façade of the XII century abbey: the imposing walls mix straight lines and curves, gray nuances and green accents, against the blue intensity of the sky. The whole stone structure seems to reach for that sky, prompting the same question that is at the origin of the name Michael: “Who is like God?”. Nobody, one might answer in front of such an architectural wonder.
Founded between 983 and 987 on the rocky spur of Mount Pirchiriano, in the Cottian Alps, at about one thousand meters of altitude, the Sacra is at the midpoint of a pilgrimage route that goes from Mont Saint-Michel, in France, to Monte Sant’Angelo, in Puglia – another two abbeys dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel –, stretching across Europe for over two thousand kilometers.
The Sacra di San Michele is an exquisite vessel of history and art: remains of cemetery buildings predating the year 1000, stairways (‘scaloni’) of the XII century, and Romanesque portals adorned with Zodiac-inspired bas-relieves compose a staggering entrance to the Romanesque-Gothic sanctuary, which also showcases masterpieces of the painters of the 1500s and 1600s.
Nobody is like God, Saint Michael suggests. But here, in the Sacra bearing the archangel’s name, a chronicler of the XI century noted that at least it is possible to contemplate divine majesty in its proximity.