My mother-in-law’s family has origins in the area of Lazio known as the “Ciociara.” Her family still has a tiny home in a gorgeous, remote little village called Arcinazzo (also known as “Ponza” by the locals). We took Finny there late last year and she got a great sunrise shot from the balcony.
The photo at the beginning of this post is one of the streets in the small village, and you can see a banner that reads “W La SS. Trinità.” ‘W’ is an abbreviation for “viva” or “long live.” The “SS. Trinità” refers to the Trinity of the Saints in Vallepietra, the breathtaking place I’m taking you to visit today. These little banners pop up all over the region in the period around the Sunday following Pentecost (50 days after Easter), which is when religious pilgrims from all over the area trek for a day or even longer by foot to reach the sanctuary on the summit of a mountain.
About 60 miles outside of Rome, Ale and I try to get out to his family’s little house as much as possible on summer weekends, to escape the Rome heat and indulge in some of the region’s excellent cuisine. (On that note, allow me to humbly suggest in the town of Altipiani di Arcinazzo the delectable Ristorante “Da Silvana” Via Sublacense 33, tel. 0775598002, or, for perhaps our favorite pizza in Italy outside of Naples, “La Vecchia Legnaia” Via Sublacense km 29500 – tel. 07755941013). We’ve been visiting this little mountain retreat since 2001, but a running joke the past year had also become Ale’s near-obsession with wanting to visit this mountain-top sanctuary.
Every time we tried to visit the sanctuary, the road leading to it was closed. It’s only open for a certain portion of the year. One other time it appeared open but was impassable due to snow. It just seemed like we were never going to make it to this little sanctuary…which only made Ale more determined that we had to go. I was getting to know that road block by heart, when in early May of this year, miraculously, it was open. We were on our way to the famous sanctuary!
A short drive later, we arrived in a vast and empty parking lot, and began the 15 minute climb to the sanctuary itself, which isn’t accessible by car. I didn’t really know what to expect. Shortly after we started down the path, I started to see small wooden crosses stuck in the ground.
Little did I know that this was nothing in comparison to what I was about to see along the path.
Keep in mind that there are thousands of religious pilgrims who walk in large groups, or “companies,” from small towns all over the Ciociara, the area known as the Sublacense, and as far as Abruzzo as well, to reach this sanctuary, carrying religious tapestry banners and individual as well as “company” crosses to leave when they reach their destination. They wait all year long to brave the long kilometers and any inclement weather to reach the sanctuary, resting along the side of the road during the dark of night and praying and singing during their walk. Some pilgrims even approach the last part of the walk (the staircase leading up to the sanctuary) on their knees in a show of devotion, although I’m not sure how common this is nowadays. Click here for a photo from the early 1920s showing this phenomenon.
Along the way I saw more crosses than I could ever count. Each cross had a year marked on it, often the name of the town it came from, and sometimes a plaque with the names of the people in the company that brought it that year. Each cross was beautiful and unique.
Here you can see where pilgrims can leave candles, and the white candle wax that has built up over the years.
Forgot to pack candles? No worries. Clever entrepreneurs have set up numerous stands along the way (which weren’t yet open when we visited, prior to the yearly pilgrimage). This particular stand sells candles and raincoats.
Here is the sanctuary, with a small chapel on the ground floor. On the second floor is the fresco representing the trinity.
Although our little 15-minute walk was nothing in comparison to what the religious pilgrims partake in each year, I have to say that visiting this site was a special experience for me nonetheless. There is a really spiritual and peaceful energy to the place and you can feel the years and years of history and pilgrimages.
If you ever find yourself in the area, this is a very interesting and sacred side trip by car. You can find directions (in Italian) for how to arrive here (open from May 1 to October 31). Some more photos and explanations on this page.