Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo

Grotta di San Michele al Tancia


Useful Information

Location: On the road SP47 between Poggio Catino and Gallo, after the stone bridge left, follow signposted trail, 20 minutes walk. Municipality of Monte San Giovanni in Sabina.
(42.306854, 12.727935)
Open: All year daily.
After appointment at the Tancia Hostel House.
[2021]
Fee: yes.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. SubterraneaCave Church SubterraneaSt. Michael Caves
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo, Tancia Hostel House, 02040 Monte San Giovanni In Sabina RI, WhatsApp: +39-328-287-4327.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History


Description

The Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo is one of dozens cave churches in Italy dedicated to Archangel Saint Michael- This one is located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forest and reach on a 15 minutes walk on the trail leading to the Tancia pass. The area is framed by the Tancia and Pizzuto Mountains.

According to legend a demon - probably hidden in the guise of a dragon - had infiltrated this cave to find shelter and wreak havoc among the local population. The frightened local people gathered in prayer for help. Pope Silvestro heard their requests for help, during a retreat night on Mount Soratte, and he called for the aid of Saint Michael the Archangel. Saint Michael came directly from the Gargano Caves, arrived on Monte Tancia and challenged the evil one in a fight which lasted three days and three nights. The fight was so bitter, the dragon's claws marks are still visible in the deep holes in the rock on the cliff next to the cave. Eventually, both exhausted by the battle, they reached an agreement: the demon would remain hidden in the deepest recesses of the cave and Saint Michael would watch at the entrance to ensure that the pact was not broken.

The legend of the fight is often interpreted as the act of Christianization. The defeat of the dragon symbolizes the defeat of pagan culture. But there arte several other legends connected with this place.

In 1051 the Vescovo di Sabina Giovanni (Bishop of Sabina Giovanni) and the Abate di Farfa Berardo I (Abbot of Farfa Berardo I) were fighting about this place which symbolizes Christianization. The Bishop of Sabina Giovanni entered the cave, destroyed the altar and stole the relics. But the same night, the Bishop had a hemiparesis as a divine punishment. Out of fear he decided to immediately rebuild the altar and put the relics back in their place.

Today there is a meadow with benches, which is ideal to rest after the walk uphill. It lies at the foot of a cliff face with a staircase in the rock that leads up to a balcony on the top right with the cave right behind. Entering the cave the first thing you will notice is the altar with the ciborium with tympanum roof, a barrel vault supported by two columns with their respective capitals. The small vault of the ciborium is covered with two layers of frescoes, the second representing the repainting of the first. A bust of Christ is surrounded by the classical symbols of the four evangelists. Above the altar on the bottom of the lunette is an image of the Madonna with the child. On the front of the ciborium is the Agnus Dei, with the images of the prophets bowing reverently on the sides. A fresco depicts St. Michael, shining in his golden armor, and the dragon. The dragon's head is crushed by the saint. This 15th century fresco shows typical late medieval symbolism.

The most extraordinary artwork in this cave was a rough statuette carved into a stalactite, 44cm high and between 9cm and 12cm wide. It showed a sitting female figure which is thought to be the representation of a mother goddess, linked to the cults of fertility and fecundity. So it was known as Goddess Vacuna who is much venerated in Sabina. The name of the town of Vacone is derived from this goddess. Unfortunately this statue was stolen 50 years ago. The cave church, like most catholic churches, was open for people who wanted to pray or visit the church. After the disappearance of the statuette and with the risk of other episodes of vandalism, the Municipality of Monte San Giovanni in Sabina to choose to close the access to the Grotto by installing a gate at its entrance. Its possible to peek in, but not to enter. To visit the cave interior, you can contact the Tancia Hostel House and take one of the guided tours they organize throughout the year. They prefer a WhatsApp chat on the phone number given in the address section.