The Sacra di San Michele is a place abounding in art, religion, and culture, where history and myth are interwoven, generating anecdotes and episodes all to be discovered.


"The building that is the Sacra ticket office today was, in the past, called the “house of the shepherd” or “margaro” (in Piedmont dialect), as can be seen from a sketch in 1741 made during the dispute between Chiusa San Michele and Sant’Ambrogio regarding the ownership of the area on which the monastery was erected. This building was important due to the presence of a boundary marker between the two towns that at least ten Chiusa witnesses in 1882 declared they had seen in the past and that, according to them, was fraudulently removed by the inhabitants of Sant’Ambrogio to destroy the proof that the Sacra belonged to the Chiusa municipality. It was a long debate, which began in the early 1700s and lasted until the early 1900s, and did not lead, in any case, to any definitive decision by the courts involved. Over time, the issue was given up and today, by convention the watershed that passes over the ridge of the mountain is taken as the division line, dividing in two the Sacra fence and the church itself: the eastern part in the Sant’Ambrogio municipality and the western part in the Chiusa San Michele one. "


The flying buttresses were devised as a support to the southern flank of the church that, under the disproportionate weight of the reconstructed barrel vault in the 1600s, had lost its verticality and dangerously tilted outside threatening collapse. The history of the flying buttresses was actually very long; it started in 1890 with the foundations of the three columns more to the west. In 1892, the two central ones were raised, while in 1894 it was the turn of the one facing the upper valley. In the spring of 1896, the foundations were laid for the first Turin side, the highest and also the most difficult because it had to be built entirely within the east wing of the convent. A lack of funds led to a suspension in works until 1925, when they recommenced. These were only entirely completed, however, with the creation of the top flying buttresses in the campaign of 1935-1941 - a half century after its design by the architect D’Andrade, who died 26 years previously.


"The splendid portal that issues into the abbey church of the Sacra di San Michele is enriched, on the right-hand side as you enter, by the presence of a hooded monk’s head. It is clear, however, that on the corresponding left-hand side a sculpture, which must have been paired with this one, is missing. The sculpture has been lost and its chipped stone remains as a silent witness. In reality, there too was a sculpture that depicted the uncovered head of a novice, as would seem from a sketch done by Alfredo D’Andrade at the end of the 1800s. Giovanni Gaddo, in the 1936 and 1958 editions of this book on the Sacra, also describes the presence of this youth’s head with a tonsure - the same image, moreover, included in D’Andrade’s sketch. But the final re-print of the book in 1977 bitterly complained of the disappearance of the sculpture. However, the 1907 book by Malladra-Ranieri already described its disappearance at that time; in contrast, the head was present forty years earlier, in 1868, when Francesco Paoli described “two monk heads with hoods at the start of the arch of the door made with the door posts of several bundles of columns”. It could be, however, that the head, which disappeared at the start of the 1900s, was later found and repositioned during works in the 1930s. A doubt emerges, in any case, from the comparison with a photograph included in a little book from the 1940s, in which you distinguish the shadow of the head that is missing today. In contrast to what is affirmed in various texts, instead of the features of a youth, these definitely seem to be those of an old man. "


In the church of the Sacra, 16 large sarcophagi made of green stone from Malanaggio positioned in 1937 gather the remains of figures of the House of Savoy, previously housed in the crypts beneath the abbey church. Each weighing five tonnes, the sarcophagi were transported from the square of the sepulchre, with a system of slides along the stairways, to the base of the façade where the door opens up leading to the Scalone dei Morti. Here, a massive winch raised them to the height of the window behind the main altar, which was removed for the occasion. Each sepulchre had previously been sculpted according to the tombs that had to house them so as to be positioned in their final location in the church or the old choir. The remains to replace in the new sarcophagi belonged to 24 figures of the house of Savoy, which arrived at the Sacra in 1836 and were placed, for some years, in two large funeral monuments to the sides of the main altar. In 1855, the bodies had been moved into the crypts below the floor of the church where they remained until the morning of 12 June 1937, when a squad of 80 carabinieri moved them, with their respective coffins, inside the current stone sarcophagi. Each sarcophagus has a tomb, except for that placed in the old choir between the two columns, where the remains of 4 adults and 5 children were placed. An official ceremony followed, in the presence of Prince Umberto, Cardinal Fossati, who celebrated the mass, and other authorities who attended.



In the restoration works documents for the Sacra, beginning in 1878, reference to the rooms of a weather observatory often appears. The weather observations on Pirchiriano began, in fact, in 1868 and a "Cavalleri pendulum" operated for detecting seismic tremors in the “specola” (observatory) of Pirchiriano. A wind vane present on the wall facing Chiusa indicated wind direction. From the set of 37 citations tracked down in the years 1878 to 1887, in which reference is made to an “observatory” as well as to an “observatory terrace”, you can trace back to their placement outside the old choir, on the north-west corner that faces Chiusa San Michele. There are also references to an “old observatory” which would seem to be located in the attic, once present at the site of the current panoramic terrace. At the level of the church, you access the so-called “cabinet” of the new observatory via the door formed close to the current painting of the death of St. Joseph. The passage is clearly visible in the drawings at the end of the 1800s, but is today walled in; you can glimpse a trace of it in the cracking in the plaster of the north wall of the old choir. The observatory cabinet and covered terrace above did not communicate with each other and you accessed the latter through a door, which also communicated with the old choir, corresponding to the current last window at the bottom of the north-west wall. A wooden stairway with two flights, depicted in a plate by D’Andrade in the 1880s, ascended to this door, following the angle at the end of the choir. Still today, from the panoramic terrace, you can see one of the iron hinges on which this door opened outside. The dimensions of this terrace corresponded, more or less, to the room that, today, is against the old choir and visible from the panoramic terrace towards the ruins.




"How many steps await visitors who wish to ascend to the abbey church? This is a curiosity that has always struck those standing before this imposing monument or while they struggle up the steep flights of its steps. Let’s forget the steps before the iron door and, thus, only consider those inside the walls:
inside the iron door: 8
first two flights of stairs: 49
stairway next to the ticket office: 61
Scalone dei Morti; first flight: 10
Scalone dei Morti; second flight: 20
Scalone dei Morti; third and fourth flights: 60
stairway of the flying buttresses: 30
church entrance stairway: 1
Total: 239 steps. "




"The name of the Scalone dei Morti characterises this steep stairway that, along its last flight, housed many tombs of figures mainly unknown to us. There are seven tombs that can be identified today, five of which are included on a relief created under the direction of the architect Alfredo D’Andrade in the years 1888-1889. Starting from the bottom, three are on the right side as you go up, before the long final flight; the first two, lower down, are unknown, while the third, in the corner, is assigned to the nobleman from Turin Antonio Borgesio, mayor of Sant’Ambrogio, who, in 1318, made a will asking to be buried in the Sacra. High up on the left, you can see a fourth tomb; the name of the deceased of this tomb is unknown, but must have been an important figure because this is the tomb that is against the most ancient chapel present on Pirchiriano, the heart of the Sacra. At its back, in fact, there is the primitive chapel, at the end of the corridor that one enters from the stairway placed inside the church. The fifth tomb, on the same right side of the Scalone near the Portale dello Zodiaco, is attributed, with some reservations, to Giorgio Gastaldi di Sant’Ambrogio or, more likely, to Tommaso di Chiusa who, on 19 August 1295, established a perpetual legacy for the monastery for a tomb on Pirchiriano. The sixth tomb, also of an unknown person, is that which, according to Luigi Arioli, was placed behind the rounded arch below the last flight of the Scalone dei Morti. It can be seen from the entrance, looking upwards, left of the grand central column. A small cross is engraved at the bottom on the white plaster below. The seventh tomb, also called the “Sepolcro dei Rosminiani” (“Rosimians’ Tomb”) because in the past it gathered monks belonging to this congregation, is placed below the last section of the stairway, near the Portale dello Zodiaco. Access is at the bottom of the space between the flight of the Scalone and the window on the left. A last tomb was, finally, present at the beginning of the 1800s, at the top of the stairway, near the Portale dello Zodiaco. It appears in two drawings by Massimo D’Azeglio and must have been removed before the end of the same century."




Looking at the large, old fresco of the death of the Madonna, to the left as you enter into the church, you can see, around the casket of the Virgin Mary, the figures of eleven apostles whose names, many of which are no longer legible, are included beneath each of them. In the upper portion, that of the assumption, the apostle Thomas appears to the left, receiving the Virgin’s girdle as a token, according to tradition. The work narrates, in fact, a legend that the apostle, already incredulous about the resurrection of Jesus, also doubted the assumption of the Virgin. When Thomas wanted to verify this in person, opening the tomb in which the Madonna had been placed, he only found the girdle left by the Virgin as proof of her actual ascent to heaven. From a 1748 will including the final wishes of Cantor Giovanni Battista, once Stefano of Chiusa San Michele, we learn, in this regard, of the existence of a “Company of the Sacred Girdle set up in the Abbey Church of San Michele belonging to this place” to which the testator, who died the following day at just 26 years, left the sum of 5 lira.




This is what the French soldiers would have thought who, during the years of the 1629-1630 war, descended into Italy and also climbed to the Sacra, then guarded by Piedmont and Spanish allies. They took possession of the church, ravaging the walls with blasphemous writing, removing furnishings and everything there was of value. They went as far as opening a sepulchre placed on the right-hand side of the main altar to steal who knows what riches. All of this was noted down in the report of the pastoral visit made two years later, in 1632, by the Vicar General of the Abbey of San Michele, Giovanni Battista Vignale. The sepulchre referred to is almost certainly the sepulchral monument of Guglielmo, now placed near the sacristy, but then positioned on the right-hand side of the main altar against the southern wall - “ad cornu epistolae Altaris maioris et adherens parieti versus meridiem” - and that was, in fact, empty, as Canon Pezziardi, who lived in the 1700s, recalled. Not being able to enter by moving the upper part, for obvious reasons, the soldiers opened up a passage in the lower part of the urn where the rupture and subsequent repair are still clearly evident.



According to the legend of the Lovely Alda, the point from which the girl, harassed by soldiers, threw herself - saving herself the first time, but miserably perishing, due to her vanity, in the second attempt - is located here. In reality, it wasn’t really a tower, but what remains of the cross wing that was part of the new monastery block and that, precisely due to the shape of the land, projected into that area with this shape. Luigi Arioli, in his book on the Sacra, believes that the small rooms still visible inside the "Torre della Bell’Alda" ("Tower of Lovely Alda") were, in actual fact, used as “rest rooms”. The construction was probably covered with a roof in stone tiles, as, moreover, also appears on the southern wall, surmounted by a little wall with the function of protecting against the gusts of wind that are so strong at this height. In 1913, important reinforcement, restoration, and reconstruction works began along whole sections of wall that were decisive for its survival. Thus, for once, time did not record the collapse of the walling but, in contrast, its restoration. From a comparison with modern images, you can clearly see the reconstruction of the wall facing south where the previous walling stopped at the corner and where the reconstruction, terraced with original stone, still disguises any discontinuity with the earlier structure.


Plan your visit to the Sacra di San Michele and purchase your ticket.


Contact us for any request for information not included on the website.

We will respond, as compatible with current activities, during the Sacra di San Michele opening hours.

TELEPHONE: +39 011939130
ddress Via alla Sacra, 14 - 10057 S. Ambrogio (TO)