Sacra di San Michele – Sant'Ambrogio di Torino, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Sacra di San Michele

Sant'Ambrogio di Torino, Italy

The mountaintop inspiration for Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose." 


The Medieval Benedictine Abbey of Sacra di San Michele perched precariously atop Mount Pirchiriano is said to have been the inspiration for Umberto Ecco’s novel of death and deceit among monks, The Name of the Rose.

Other than its dramatic and imposing mountaintop location, the Abbey has many odd details and stories that might appeal to the aspiring murder novelist: The Abbey is reached via the Scalone del Morti (“Stairway of the Dead”), named for the presence of the bodies of dead monks that used to decorate the niches along the sides. At the top of the stairs, the Porta dello Zodiaco (“Zodiac Door”) is carved with signs of the zodiac and hair-pulling cherubs.

The most famously macabre feature is the Tower of Alda the Beautiful, site of a miracle pushed too far. According to legend, the beautiful Alda threw herself from the tower to her certain death, but due to the intercession of angels, miraculously survived. But when others doubted her tale, she recklessly tested the angels with a second leap. This time, they let her fall.

Like many of the pinnacle-top sites dedicated to the archangel Michael, the exact dates and stories of construction have been lost to time, but it dates to at least the 11th century, if not earlier. It stood abandoned from 1622-1835, but was restored in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it belongs to the Roman Catholic Rosminian organization.


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