Santuario di Santa Rosalia


Useful Information

Location: Via Pietro Bonanno s.n., 90142 Palermo PA.
Buses start at Piazza Sturzo in Palermo.
(38.168054, 13.351390)
Open: All year daily 8:30-19.
[2023]
Fee: free, donations welcome.
[2023]
Classification:
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=445 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Santuario di Santa Rosalia, Via Pietro Bonanno s.n., 90142 Palermo PA, Tel: +39-091-540326. E-mail:
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

1624 Girolama La Gattuta quenched her thirst with dripping water in one of the pools and healed.
15-JUL-1624 bones of St. Rosalia found in this cave.
1625 begin of construction.
1629 cave church completed.
06-APR-1787 sanctuary visited by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
1946 sanctuary managed by the Religiosi dell’Opera Don Orione.

Description

The Santuario di Santa Rosalia (Sanctuary of St Rosalie) is a cave church and monastery which is dedicated to the bones of St. Rosalia, which were found in this cave on 15-JUL-1624. As a result a cave church was built, which was completed in 1629. Since it has been visited by locals and by travellers. One of the famous visitors was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who visited the sanctuary on 06-APR-1787 during his journey to Italy. We started a description, but actually the description by Goethe is far better, and so we decided to cite him.

Palermo, 6 April 1787.

St Rosalie, patron saint of Palermo, has become so generally known through the description given by Brydone of her feast, that it must surely be pleasant for friends to read something of the place and the spot where she is especially venerated.

Monte Pellegrino, a great mass of rock, wider than it is high, lies at the north-west end of the Gulf of Palermo. Its beautiful shape cannot be described in words; an imperfect illustration of it can be found in the "Voyage pittoresque de la Sicile". It consists of a grey limestone of the earlier period. The rocks are completely bare, no tree or shrub grows on them, except that the flat parts are covered with a little grass and moss.

At the beginning of the last century, the remains of the saint were discovered in a cave on this mountain and brought to Palermo. Her presence freed the city from the plague and from that moment on Rosalie became the patron saint of the people; chapels were built in her honour and splendid celebrations were held.

The devout travelled diligently to the mountain, and a path was built at great expense, which rests on pillars and arches like a water conduit and zigzags up between two cliffs.

The place of devotion itself is more appropriate to the humility of the saint who took refuge there than the magnificent festivals that were held in honour of her complete separation from the world. And perhaps the whole of Christendom, which for eighteen hundred years has based its possessions, its splendour, its solemn revelry on the misery of its first founders and most ardent confessors, has no holy place to show that has been decorated and venerated in such an innocent and sensitive way.

Once you have climbed the mountain, you turn round a rocky corner where you are close to a steep cliff face to which the church and the monastery are, as it were, built.

The outside of the church has nothing inviting or promising about it; you open the door without expectation, but are surprised in the most marvellous way when you step inside. You find yourself under a hall that runs the width of the church and is open towards the nave. In it you can see the usual vessels with holy water and some confessionals. The nave of the church is an open courtyard, closed on the right side by rough rocks and on the left by a continuation of the hall. It is covered with stone slabs so that the rainwater can run off; a small well stands roughly in the centre.

The cave itself has been remodelled into a choir, without taking anything away from its natural rough shape. A few steps lead up to it: the large lectern with the choir loft is immediately opposite, with choir stalls on either side. Everything is illuminated by the daylight streaming in from the courtyard or nave. Deep behind in the darkness of the cave stands the main altar in the centre.

As already mentioned, nothing has been changed in the cave; however, as the rocks are always dripping with water, it was necessary to keep the place dry. This was achieved by means of leaden channels, which were led along the edges of the rocks and connected to each other in various ways. As they are wide at the top and pointed at the bottom, and painted a dirty green colour, it almost looks as if the inside of the cave is overgrown with large cactus species. The water is channelled partly to the side and partly to the back into a clear container, from which the believers draw it and use it against all kinds of ills.

As I was looking closely at these objects, a priest came up to me and asked me if I was a Genoese and wanted to have some masses said. I told him that I had come to Palermo with a Genoese who would be coming up tomorrow on a feast day. As one of us always had to stay at home, I had gone up today to have a look round. He told me to make use of all the freedom I had, to look at everything and do my devotions. In particular, he directed me to an altar on the left side of the cave as a special sanctuary and left me.

I saw lamps shimmering from under the altar through the openings of a large brass foliage, knelt down very close to it and looked through the openings. Inside, a latticework of finely woven brass wire had been drawn in front, so that one could only distinguish the object behind it as if through a pile.

I caught sight of a beautiful woman by the light of a few quiet lamps.

She was lying in a kind of rapture, her eyes half-closed, her head resting carelessly on her right hand, which was adorned with many rings. I could not look at the picture enough; it seemed to me to have very special charms. Her robe is made of gilded sheet metal, which imitates a fabric richly woven in gold. Her head and hands, of white marble, are worked, I may not say in a high style, but so naturally and pleasingly that one would think she had to catch her breath and move.

A little angel stands beside her and seems to be waving a lily stem to cool her.

Meanwhile, the clergy had come into the cave, sat down on their chairs and sang vespers.

I sat down on a bench facing the altar and listened to them for a while; then I went back to the altar, knelt down and tried to visualise the beautiful image of the saint even more clearly. I surrendered completely to the charming illusion of the figure and the place.

The singing of the clergy now died away in the cave, the water trickled into the container right next to the altar, the overhanging rocks of the forecourt, the actual nave of the church, enclosed the scene even more. There was a great stillness in this desert, which had, as it were, died out again, a great purity in a wild cave; the finery of Catholic, especially Sicilian, worship, here still at first in its natural simplicity; the illusion created by the figure of the beautiful sleeping woman, still charming even to a trained eye - enough, I could only tear myself away from this place with difficulty and only arrived back in Palermo late at night.

This visit was more than 200 years ago, and so there are obviously minor differences to today, but he did a really good job describing the site.