In August 2022, Architectural Digest featured “17 Beautiful Places of Worship Built into Nature.” Among them is an Italian chapel that appears suspended on a sheer cliffside high above the Adige River in the province of Verona. It is a popular pilgrimage destination today for those who want to meditate or pray in peace, or to appreciate the stunning beauty of the place—the tall, vertical mountains above, the lush valley below, the meandering Adige, and the salmon-colored church with its bell tower reaching to the sky.
The sanctuary was initially built in 1530. But there is evidence that the location was already frequented in the 11th and 12th centuries. A hermitage there housed ascetics linked to the Monastery of San Zeno in Verona.
The origins of the construction of the sanctuary of the Madonna della Corona date back to a local legend. The story tells of the miraculous discovery of a statue of the Pietà on the edge of the rocky ravine. The statue was originally kept on the island of Rhodes. To escape the Turkish invasion of Suleiman II and the confiscation of the island’s treasures, an angel transferred the statue to this area of Monte Baldo. When a group of local people saw a light there and heard an angelic choir coming from the rocky wall, they tried to reach the treacherous spot. They had to lower themselves with ropes to see the mysterious statue. They decided to erect a chapel on that very spot to house the beautiful Madonna.
The story is most likely apocryphal as the sculpture is made from stone native to the area. However, the legend became quite popular as more and more pilgrims visited the area. As the sanctuary was difficult to reach, local workers built a path digging steps into the rock and erecting a bridge, the famous “Ponte del Tiglio,” to facilitate the pilgrimage.
Over the ensuing centuries, the main chapel saw a number of changes. The statue of the Madonna still hangs above the main altar. Thanks to the church’s relative inaccessibility, it was never totally destroyed and managed to survive into the 20th century. In the 1970s an Italian architect tore down much of the aging structure and rebuilt it, retaining as many important artistic elements as possible.
Perched on a rock shelf at an altitude of 775 meters (about 2500 feet) above sea level, the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona, was once accessed only by a climb of 1,614 steps along Pilgrim’s Path (also known as Hope’s Path) from the village of Brentino Belluno in the Lagarina Valley in the province of Verona. Today the once treacherous path to the chapel has been modernized, and the sanctuary can also be reached from above by an asphalt road that starts near the village of Spiazzi.