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Sacra di San Michele: the silent character of the legendary novel The Name of the Rose




The Sacra di San Michele (Saint Michael’s Abbey) is an ancient abbey built between 983 and 987 on the top of Mount Pirchiriano, just 40 km from Turin. This monument is a symbol of the Piedmont region and the place that inspired the author Umberto Eco to create the bestseller The Name of the Rose. From its towers one can admire the Metropolitan City of Turin and breathtaking views of the Susa Valley. Inside the main church, dating back the 12th century, are buried representatives of the Savoyard dynasty – one of the oldest royal families in the world.

History of the Saint Michael’s Abbey

The construction of the abbey is credited to a man who came to Italy in search of atonement for the sins of his dubious past. It was Count Hugo de Monvoisier, a wealthy and noble Lord of Auvergne. Arriving in Rome to ask the Pope for absolution, the count received, as a repentance, the choice between a seven-year exile and the obligation to build an abbey.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Elio Pallard, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Elio Pallard, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

So at the end of the 900s, there started the construction of the monastery, which was later conveyed to the Benedictine monks and after a while became an important stopover for pilgrims of high social status.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Elio Pallard, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Marina Parini, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Not much is known about the early years of the abbey. The oldest surviving record is the story of the monk William, who lived here in the late 11th century. One of the passages of the document indicates that the foundation of the abbey was laid in 966, but in another passage the same monk points out that construction was started during the pontificate of Sylvester II (999-1003).

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Massimo Trabaldo Lena, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Sacra di San Michele

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Later, the abbey developed under the rule of the Benedictines, who built a separate building with guest rooms for pilgrims and a monastery church (1015-1035).

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Gianni Careddu, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Gianni Careddu, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

The monastery fell into disrepair and was finally destroyed in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. The building remained abandoned until 1835, when King Carl Albert and the Pope asked Antonio Rosmini to rebuild and repopulate it. Currently, Sacra di San Michele is under the care of the Rosminians.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Gianni Careddu, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Carlo grifone, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Dedicated to the archangel Michael, protector of Christians, the Sacra di San Michele is a part of a more than 2,000 km pilgrimage route that runs from the ancient abbey of Mont Saint-Michel in France to the church of Monte Sant’Angelo in the province of Apulia.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Elio Pallard, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Aside from the impressive and dominant location on the top of the mountain, the abbey has many strange details that an aspiring writer might like: it can be accessed via the Ladder of the Dead, named for the bodies of the monks that adorned the niches on the sides. At the top of the stairs, on the Door of the Zodiac, the signs of the Zodiac and cherubs are carved.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Carlo grifone, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Sacra di San Michele

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The Sacra di San Michele legend

The most famous sad place of the abbey is the Tower of the Beautiful Alda: a miracle happened here but it went too far. Legend has it that the beautiful Alda jumped from the tower, but the angels miraculously saved her from certain death. When others questioned her story, she recklessly tested the angels with a second jump, but this time they let her fall…

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Sofia Pan, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Gianni Careddu, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the Sacra di San Michele takes a perfect geographical position along with the other monasteries of St. Michael. All of them make a straight line from Skellig Michael (Ireland) through Mount St. Michael (Cornwall, England) and the Monastery of St. Michael (Symi Island, Greece) to Mount Carmel in Jerusalem. Lines like this are considered a system of energy highways, which are like chakras and acupuncture meridians in the energy body of a human.

Sacra di San Michele

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Drama and asceticism, history and legend, present and past merge in absolute harmony in this unforgettable place.

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Fedooo89, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Sacra di San Michele

Photo: Elio Pallard, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sacra di San Michele on map: