DAY 2 of 2 / Chapter 1 of 4 – Italy
Milan Lake Maggiore (Leggiuno) – 77 km
We find ourselves entering into a story that has been passed down through the centuries, a story that teeters between truth and legend.
“It was the year 1170. A greedy money lender called Alberto Besozzi was navigating the waters of Lake Maggiore in his boat. He was returning from the market at Lesa with some friends when something unexpected happened that changed his life”.
We get into the boat and allow our minds to go back in time, envisaging everything that happens in the story.
“There’s a sudden storm. Gusts of wind and pouring rain batter the boat in the lake’s choppy waters. Believing he would die, Alberto prayed to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Egypt, for help. He promised devotion to her, and that if she saved his life, he would see out his days in solitude and poverty.
The boat was wrecked, and everyone lost their lives. Everyone but Alberto, who washed up in a small cove near Leggiuno, called Sasso Ballarò, which is named after its high, rocky cliffs.
Thankfully, there isn’t a storm today. The weather is lovely, and the waters of the lake ebb and flow gently.
For a moment, we allow ourselves to enjoy the soft breeze, the warmth of the sun on our skin, and the pleasant rocking of the boat.
So what did Alberto do? Did he stay true to his vow?
“Alberto went to live a life of solitude and poverty in a cave near where the boat was wrecked.
He foraged for food and ate the bread he was offered by passing boatmen. His fame as a hermit grew by the day.
After eight days of fervent prayer he was pardoned, and he built a small chapel near the cave as a symbol of his gratitude.
He died in 1205, and his body was buried in the chapel”.
Today, it’s a national monument, and the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso is one of the most fascinating historic sites on Lake Maggiore. Under the custodianship of the Oblates of St Benedict, the Hermitage is now a monastery with a courtyard and of course, the chapel – its artistic and spiritual heart.
The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso clings to the edge of a rocky cliff, sixty metres above the water. It can be reached by boat – there are several services which run from different parts of the lake – or via a steep flight of steps.