Sitting just inside the tall mouth of an Italian mountain cave, the Temple of Valadier cuts a striking neo-classical silhouette against the rough hewn edges of the surrounding natural cave walls, looking like the temple itself was trying to seek refuge in the cave.
In reality it was the local population that has been taking refuge in the caves for hundreds of years. Since at least the 10th century the local population has been taking shelter in the large cave in which the temple now sits, usually hiding out from attacks from marauding enemy tribes. Remains of these earlier uses of the cave were uncovered when the temple was built in 1828 at the behest of the reigning pope. A crude hermitage was also installed right near the entrance to the temple. The ornate design features a domed roof covering an octagonal silo structure meant to symbolize Jesus’ resurrection after three days.
The isolated mountain temple is known as the “Refuge of Sinners,” and acted as a pilgrimage site for those seeking forgiveness. The interior originally held a marble Madonna and Child sculpted by Italian artist Antonio Canova; however, the original has been moved to a local museum and a replacement was installed in the temple. While the idiosyncratic hidden temple is more of a tourist attraction than a site of solemn prayer, the shrine inside is still a religious site kept in good order.