Leggiuno, Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro
The peculiar fascination of this hermitage is due to the astonishing position on a rocky overhang, in one of the deepest points of the Maggiore Lake. The hermitage is formed by three different buildings dating from the XIII-XIV centuries. A legend tells that it was origined by a previous chapel dedicated to S. Caterina from Alessandria, which was erected in 1100 thanks to the intercession of the Saint herself by Alberto Besozzi of Arolo, a rich businessman who outlived from a downfall and therefore retired in that place as an eremite. The first historic documents date back to a later period, precisely to the year 1230, when the Dominicans, a religious order, settled there and built a small convent and an oratory; right after, the convent was inhabited by the Romiti Ambrosiani monks and, from 1649, by the Carmelitani.
As many ecclesiastic buildings, it was dismembered by the Austrian Governement in the XIX C and assigned to some nearby parrishes. In 1920 it opened to worship again and, starting from 1970, the hermitage belongs to the Province of Varese, but is managed by the Oblati Benedettini order.
Today the complex is made up of different buildings, juxtaposed in the gothic and Renaissance periods, linked through hanging balconies:
- the S. Caterina of Alessandria chapel;
- the church of S. Maria Nova;
- the church of S. Nicola (XIV C);
- the bell tower (XI C).
Among the most prestigious element in the hermitage there are the frescoes, some of them attributed to Giotto's school, dating from the XIV C, in the S. Nicola church, other of the XV C and XVII C and a cenacle of the XVII C, found in the mess-hall.
To reach the hermitage, the better way is to climb an evocative stair of 268 steps, which starts from the elevated parking og Cellina, hamlet of Leggiuno; another way is by water.
Address: via S. Caterina, 5