At the foot of the Alps, the tiny region of Valle d'Aosta is home to eleven mountain shrines, sanctuaries and hermitages. These small chapels are testament to centuries old Catholic practices based upon the local folk traditions. Penitent souls have made processions to these isolated locations for generations to give thanks for their prayers being answered. The interiors of these sanctuaries are covered with votive offerings left by the faithful, conveying just how many cures and miracles have been performed.
These small chapels and former hermitages, dotted along the rugged terrain of Valle d’Aosta often take several hours of hiking to reach. All of these sanctuaries share dramatic locations and spectacular views, giving the pilgrim an even greater sense of peace and tranquility as they pray.
Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Guerison
At the foot of Monte Bianco in the commune of Courmayeur is the dramatically situated Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Guerison. This location was once the site of a small Christian oratory before becoming a hermitage and sanctuary in the 18th Century. Although the hermits are long gone, pilgrims continue to visit the sanctuary for its reputation as a healing shrine.
Hermitage of San Grato
Close to the town of Pila is the ancient hermitage site of San Grato. It was here that San Grato di Aosta, the Patron Saint of Valle d’Aosta would often go into hermitage. The hermitage would later become a popular sanctuary and the final destination for a nighttime processional route starting in the city of Aosta.
Sanctuary of Notre Dame de Pitie
Located outside the city of Aosta in the Pont-Suaz section of Charvensod, this sanctuary dates from the 16th Century. The simple chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Pity (Notre-Dame-de-Pitie) and is decorated in frescoes depicting the Crucifixion. The interior is covered in votive offerings and a series of polychrome wooden statues depict the body of Jesus being laid in his tomb.
Sanctuary of Plout
A statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered near the town of Saint-Marcel in the 14th Century but the first sanctuary was a 17th Century construction. The sanctuary is attributed to a thankful mason who built it after being cured by the Madonna. The current structure dates to the mid 19th Century and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits (Notre Dame des Hermites).
Sanctuary of Saint-Julien
This sanctuary at the foot of Mount Saint-Julien was built on the site of the Saint’s martyrdom by Roman soldiers. Found in the commune of Fenis, the location has been visited by pilgrims for many centuries and has been the site of a chapel since at least the 14th Century. This complex was also one of the many mountain hermitages found in the Valle d‘Aosta in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Sanctuary of Miserin
Close to Champorcher and located at the alpine Lago Miserin is a sanctuary dedicated to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a Virgin of the Snows. The original 16th Century chapel was rebuilt in 1881 and today is visited by the faithful as well as alpine hikers.
Sanctuary of Retempio
This sanctuary is located above the town of Pontboset and is known for its religious processions in July and August. The mountain chapel has a spectacular view of the valley below and was built in 1835 for the veneration of the Nostra Signora della Visitazione.
Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
Located in peaceful Perloz and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this first sanctuary on this spot dates from the 14th Century. The current structures date to the 19th Century and its frescoed interior is covered in numerous votive offerings.
Sanctuary of Voury
Dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie, this sanctuary is close to the hamlet of Gaby and is reminiscent of the Sacro Monte de Varallo Sesia in Lombardy. The current structure, known for its gilded Baroque altar and centuries old pipe organ was built in 1833 by a thankful survivor of an avalanche.
Sanctuary of Machaby
This sanctuary is dedicated to the Madonna delle Nevi, the Virgin of the Snows a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary. Legend says that the statue was discovered near the town of Arnad. When the statue was removed from the site, it reappeared the next day back where it was found, which is now the site of the current sanctuary.
Sanctuary of Cuney
Also dedicated to the Madonna delle Nevi is the Sanctuary of Cuney, dating to the mid 17th Century. This aptly dedicated sanctuary located in the commune of Nus is inaccessible during the winter months and is the highest sanctuary in Europe. Every August a procession taking over five hours makes it way up to this sturdy little chapel, located at 8713 feet (2656 meters).
Sources/For More Information: On the Summit of Memory, Official Tourism Publication, Val d'Aosta, 2006
Valle d’Aosta Official Tourism Website: http://www.regione.vda.it/turismo
By Justin Demetri