The Stunning Sanctuary of San Romedio

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 06:00
Santuario di San Romedio

The Sanctuary of San Romedio in Trentino’s Val di Non is among Europe’s most unique shrines, located as it is in stunning natural scenery, perched on a 70-meter-high rocky spur, at the end of a canyon carved by the river Rio Romedio. It is also among Europe’s most important Christian pilgrimage sites, with approximately 200,000 pilgrims visiting every year.

You don’t have to be a believer though to appreciate the peacefulness and spirituality of this historic sanctuary dedicated to Saint Romedius (San Romedio), consisting of five overlaid small churches and chapels, built between the 11th and 20th centuries and connected by a steep staircase of 131 steps.

The legends surrounding the figure of Saint Romedius are just as fascinating as the site of his hermitage. Romedio, who lived between the 4th and 5th centuries, was a noble young man, the heir of a rich Bavarian family. After a pilgrimage to Rome, he gave up all his possessions and retreated into a hermitage, originally a simple grotto, in the Val di Non. One day, as he was riding his horse to Trento to see Vigilius, the bishop of the city, Romedio and the horse were attacked by a bear. The horse was torn to pieces, but when Romedio approached the bear, he was able to tame it. He then rode the bear to Trento. The bear later returned with him to the hermitage, the only companion to Romedio until his death. To commemorate this legend, a small wildlife area has been set up next to the sanctuary, where a bear named Bruno currently lives.

When Romedio died, his disciples carved his burial place into the rock by the grotto where he had lived, thus beginning the cult of Saint Romedius. The first church was built around the year 1000 over the tomb of the saint at the highest point of the rocky outcrop; the first devotees of the saint carried the stones needed to build it. The relics of the saint are preserved here. Four subsequent churches and chapels were built, with the last one erected at the end of World War I to give thanks for the end of the war. The larger church of Saint Romedius was built in front of the first church in 1536 by the Counts of Thun-Hohenstein to accommodate the increasing numbers of pilgrims. The altarpiece here shows the saint as a hermit with the bear on a leash.

The Feast of Saint Romedius is celebrated every year on January 15, with a special Mass and the traditional tripe-based “piglrim’s dish”.  

The best - and most spectacular - way to reach the sanctuary is on foot from Sanzeno through the panoramic trail carved into the rock of the canyon (45 minutes, 2.5 km).

The Sanctuary of Saint Romedius is open all year. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Val di Non website.