The monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso in Leggiuno is built into the face of a cliff overlooking the beautiful Lake Maggiore. Approaching by boat, the centuries-old building seems almost too picturesque to be real. The church’s website promotes its scenic perch as a big tourist draw, but fails to mention the full beatified hermit laid out in a glass coffin within.
From the jetty, the entrance to the monastery requires ascending several sets of stone steps—about 80 steps in all—up the side of the cliff. There, visitors are rewarded with a secluded garden courtyard leading to an unassuming church door. It is in this chapel that you’ll find the extremely well-preserved body of Alberto Besozzi, the 12th-century hermit who built the chapel.
Legend has it that Alberto Besozzi was shipwrecked at this site, and while stranded in a cave, prayed to Saint Catherine, vowing to be eternally devoted in exchange for rescue. He survived, and in 1195 kept his promise by building a small church in her name. (Most of the structures that stand today were built later, between the 13th and 17th centuries.) Upon his death, his body was preserved within the chapel, and there it remains. Today, his coffin also doubles as a donation receptacle.
Know Before You Go
The monastery's full name is the Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso (Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso). It closes between noon and 2 p.m. almost every day, and is closed weekdays in the winter. For the best views, approach by boat.