The Grotto Church of Saint Michael – Italy - Atlas Obscura

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The Grotto Church of Saint Michael

A spiritual sanctuary in a natural cave. 


This incredible, little-known sanctuary is found within an ancient natural cave, on the side of a rocky mountain near Lake Varano.

Like its better-known counterpart in Monte Sant’Angelo, the Santuario Grotta di San Michele, or Grotto Church of Saint Michael (also known as Saint Michael’s Cave), is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, who features prominently in the sacred cavern.

On the floor of the cave is the main altar, featuring a statue of the Archangel. Behind the altar there is a natural fountain, a basin filled with rainwater dripping from the ceiling. The water is said to be blessed and have miraculous healing properties.

The grotto is about 170 feet deep and just 10 to 20 feet tall. The walls are covered in mosses, small stalagmites and stalactites, and beautiful faded frescoes. The dark sanctuary evokes a strong feeling of spirituality and mysticism, even among those who may not be looking for it. It is a uniquely peaceful space that inspires reflection.

In fact, the cave was a place of worship for centuries before it was dedicated to the cult of Saint Michael. Based on ancient artifacts discovered at the site, the cave has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, and was used by pagan cults until the Middle Ages.

Know Before You Go

The cave is located just west of the town of Cagnano Varano, along the coast of the Lake Varano. Driving along the lake there are small road signs that point toward the grotto. There is parking outside, and a small pathway that leads through an arch—adorned with another statue of Saint Michael—to the cave entrance. If you're lucky there will be a guide out front that can regale you with the legends of the grotto.

Note that there is a another, better-known grotto church dedicated to the Archangel, located in Monte Sant'Angelo. 

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