Hermitage Santa Caterina

June 23
Santa Caterina
On the day we nearly croaked for heat exhaustion (Orta and its island) we got back in the car and recovered sufficiently to think about another place to go visit: Hermitage Santa Caterina.

A hermit built the original chapel on the side of the cliff—88 steps above lake level, but 288 below the top of the hill (yes, about as many steps as are in the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The buildings hug the cliff: a small chapel, and two other small dormitory-type places, which have now been turned in Visitor Reception and the Gift Shop.

As soon as we opened the car door in the parking lot letting all the air conditioning leak out, we almost lost our nerve, but we filled up our water bottles at the small bathrooms at the top of the cliff, noting that they are building an elevator for future guests—obviously a bunch of wimps like me.

I wondered aloud to Dave, as we descended the 288 steps, whether building an elevator would change the Hermitage Santa Caterina as the shuttle buses changed Zion National Parks. More crowds, less filtering.

The roof of the first small building appeared more quickly than we’d thought and it overlooked Lake Maggiore. The first building was a small patio shaded by an old wisteria vine.

Any good historical site has The Requisite Partial Fresco. Here’s Santa Caterina’s.

So how did a hermit, even aided by the church’s money, build something so elegant and perfectly tucked in? Obviously there’s been restoration, but the bones of the place are exquisite.

The buildings seem a part of the lakeside, even though they were slightly above the water level.

A view toward the altar in the chapel.

The chapel is small and I was amazed at how blue the light was—obviously the reflection off the lake water colors the light. Dave took this shot.

Christ calling the apostles to be Fishers of Men is an appropriate theme.


Blue light tints this portrait. I wonder if the artist went a little batty trying to adjust the colors to compensate for the cool hues.

At the very back of the chapel is a saint in a glass box with brown socks on his feet. Notice the broken ceiling. Apparently several large boulders tumbled down onto the roof of the chapel and there they stayed for many years, until finally falling through with the miracle that no one was injured. Maybe this is left open to show the damage, and the miracle? I’ve noticed that miracles are really big here in Italy. Virgin sightings are especially popular. The last one I read about was when the man was digging a well and his daughter noticed The Virgin’s face in the watery muck.

This is Dave’s shot of the columns outside the chapel. Mine is the next picture, as I went for the red flowers in the small window above.

If I were to equivocate taste to this wall, it would be a creamy milk gelato with a hint of melon.

Looking back from where we came.

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