I had been due to arrive in Milan around lunchtime but, thanks to the world’s self-appointed “favourite” airline, I didn’t reach there until evening. By the time I had transferred to Milan Central station and the train had wound northward through the countryside for nearly two hours, I didn’t arrive arrived at Domodossola station until after 11pm.
I rang for a taxi and managed to raise a driver who said he was about to knock off, but as he had a night-shift worker to drop at a point vaguely in that direction, and if I wouldn’t mind sharing, he would take me to the Sanctuary.
So we set off out of town, criss-crossing the railway tracks as we went deeper into the unknown. The driver pointed out a lighted cross apparently high in the sky in the distance. “That’s the Sanctuary,” he reassured me. We seemed to speed further and further away till finally we turned into a huge railway marshalling yard where my fellow passenger disembarked. The driver explained that as the town was so close to the Swiss border, it had grown up around railways and freight. As he did so the lighted crucifix came back into view and I could see the silhouette of the mountain behind it. We climbed steeply up a single-track road and eventually my journey ended at Monte Sacro Calvario.
It was not until I opened my shutters the following morning that I had any real sense of what I had come to. My window looked out across the Italian Alps, the distant peaks still snow-capped but the nearer ones lush and green. There was that dazzling light you get in the mountains and the intoxicating air. Below was a large complex of terraces and gardens and buildings in stone and stucco.
Monte Sacro Calvario is a shrine dedicated to the Passion. It contains the last in a series of 15 small chapels tracing a via crucis up the mountain, and the pilgrim arrives finally at a larger than life-size and vividly realistic tableau of the Crucifixion in painted terracotta in the sanctuary church.
Though founded in the late 17th century by the Capuchins, the shrine is famous as the place where Blessed Antonio Rosmini founded the Institute of Charity, or Rosminians, in 1828.
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