Italy’s Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona has at its heart that striking church which is half-hewn into the rocks and seems suspended half-way between Heaven and Earth.
You will find it a stone’s throw away from Verona and just off Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake. Much more than providing instagrammable fodder and an excuse for social likes, the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona (in English: Our Lady of the Crown) is a special place to visit and explore. It brings you closer to the people of this land, their history, their traditions, and beliefs. Above all, it’s a testament to their spirit as building and maintaining a sanctuary halfway up a steep cliff face is a sign of devotion that nowadays we rarely seem to cultivate in our busy daily lives.
Visiting the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is a touching and memorable experience. It also requires some physical strength if you decide to hike all the way to it rather than taking the small shuttle bus. Most importantly, a visit to it gives you a chance to appreciate the stunning beauty of the place – the incredibly tall mountains on the vertical slope of which it is built, the valley stretching down below, the river Adige meandering through, and then the salmon-coloured church peaking behind the cragged rocks while its bell tower is forever reaching for the sky above.
I had the chance to visit the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona on a warm sunny day. The mountains, covered in their lush dress, were beautifully offset by the intensely blue skies. We followed the road leading you curve by curve from the small hilltop village of Spiazzi to the sanctuary halfway down the cliff. Along the way, we stopped at every Station of the Cross thus completing the Via Crucis – a sculptural depiction of Christ and the events on the day he was crucified.
Before long we reached the point which gave us our first view of the sanctuary.
Take it from me! The first view of the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is breathtaking.
Just as we saw it for the very first time – that salmon-coloured church with a Gothic facade, the lush greens of the mountains, and the blue sky above – the bells in the bell tower started singing their midday song. The melody flew over the valley and soared towards the sky. It was a special moment suspended between Heaven and Earth. You didn’t need to be religious to feel a deep belief right there and then. An intrinsic belief in the beauty of the world and of people’s ability and strength to find the way ahead.
Visiting the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is a great experience. If you find yourself in the Northern Italian region of the Veneto and/or around Lake Garda, make sure that you put aside half a day or a day to travel to it.
Below you will find lots of practical information and first-hand tried and tested tips to make your visit to the sanctuary as smooth and as enriching as possible.
Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona – Visiting Italy’s Church Suspended Between Heaven and Earth
Why Visit the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
The Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is one of Italy’s most well-known sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Built on a rocky terrace standing at a height of 774 m and overlooking the valley of the river Adige, it emerges from the craggy slopes of the Monte Baldo massif. Seen from afar, the sanctuary appears to be suspended halfway between Earth and Heaven thus defying the law of gravity. With its centuries-old history and religious traditions, it attracts pilgrims daily.
An incredibly serene place, a visit to the sanctuary leaves a deep impression. No matter how religious or not you may be, seeing the salmon-coloured church emerge on the side of the vertical cliff as you turn the corner of the path leading to it, is an experience that makes you stop in your tracks and contemplate the beauty and the resilience of this world for a moment or two.
Abbriged History of the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
The Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona has a long history dating many centuries back in time.
It’s said that with its quiet beauty this place – although very difficult to reach in the past – has been attracting people even before the dawn of Christianity. Around the year 1000 AD, monks from the Monastery of San Zeno in nearby Verona set up a hermitage where the sanctuary now stands. They would retreat there from the world and live in quiet contemplation.
A narrow and treacherous path led to their hermitage. Yet, the beauty and the peace of the place kept attracting people and by the second half of the 13th century, there was already a monastery with a chapel where the Madonna of Monte Baldo was venerated.
In 1522, a miracle, allegedly, happened.
A small sculpture of Pieta – the Madonna holding the dead body of Christ – was transported, they say, by angelic intervention from the island of Rhodes to where the sanctuary now stands. At the time, Rhodes had just fallen prey to the invading Ottoman Empire.
However, there is a different version as to how the statue ended at the sanctuary. It is much less miraculous than the first one and it simply states that the statue was donated in 1432 by Ludovico di Castelbarco – a local feudal lord.
The Pieta is made of stone from South Tyrol, it is 70 cm high, 56 cm wide and 25 cm deep. It stands on a pedestal with the inscription: HOC OPUS FECIT FIERI LODOVICUS D CASTROBARCO D 1432 which, according to the supporters of the second version proves that the statue was donated by Ludovico.
The first church was built there between 1480 and 1522. It was inaugurated in 1530 after a visit from the Bishop of Verona – Gian Matteo Giberti. In 1625 it became a sanctuary under the name of Santa Maria of Monte Baldo and the Knights of St. John had the church rebuilt. It was a large-scale project which was only concluded in 1680.
Since then the church of the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona has been enlarged, re-built, and renovated several times. For centuries, all the construction materials for it were brought up there by hand and, before a road was built, at times it had to be lifted up the cliff with the help of a wooden winch.
The current facade was erected in 1899. It’s in the Gothic style and decorated with marble from Sant’Ambrogio – a small town in the nearby valley of Valpolicella.
Between 1975 and 1978 the church underwent a major renovation. In order to significantly expand it, large portions of the previous church were demolished while care was taken to preserve the facade and other significant parts. During the work, it was also dug into the rock, hence nowadays parts of the north wall and the entire west wall of the church are simply the craggy cliff face. In result, the area of the church was almost tripled. From 220 sqm it was enlarged to 600 sqm. It is now 30 m long, 20 m wide and its dome is 18 m high.
In July 1982, Pope John Paul II elevated the sanctuary to a minor basilica.
Known initially as the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Monte Baldo, after the arrival of the statue of Pieta in 1522, it was referred to as the Sanctuary of the Madonna Addolorata (in English, Our Lady of Sorrows). Nowadays, the name Madonna della Corona is the most widely used one. They say that it was inspired by the crown that the mountain peaks form around the sanctuary.
It’s interesting to note that the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is the end point of the so-called Cammino dei Due Santuari (in English, Path of the Two Sanctuaries). The path begins from the Sanctuary of Pieve di Chiampo, crosses seven valleys of the Venetian Pre-Alps and ends at the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. This pilgrimage takes you through lush forests and fields dotted with small chapels which are a testament to the religious and spiritual traditions and fervour of the locals.
What to See in the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
There are many things to see in the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. Here is a short list for your convenience:
1. Via Crucis – also known as the Way of the Cross or the Way of the Sorrow in English, this is a series of 14 Stations of the Cross representing Jesus Christ on his way to Golgotha. Walking from station to station is a type of Christian pilgrimage as people pray and contemplate the Passions of Christ at each Station of the Cross. The Via Crucis leading from the small village of Spiazzi to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona was authored by the architect from Verona Raffaele Bonente. It took Bonente 34 years to complete the 15 sculptural groups – 14 of them represent the Passions of Christ and the last one recreates the tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest.
2. Via Matris – similar to a Via Crucis, a Via Matris represents the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. The seven stations along the sanctuary’s Via Matris were made by the sculptor Ugo Zannoni from Verona. Zannoni is also the author of many of the statues in white Carrara marble on the facade of the church and inside the church.
3.Stone gallery – a gallery cut in the rock in 1922. Whereas before people had to scale down and then up again a steep flight of steps, the gallery nowadays allows them to reach the sanctuary in an easier and safer manner. Inside the gallery, you can light a candle and say a prayer.
4. Pieta – the statue of the Virgin Mary holding the dead Christ which, allegedly, in 1522 travelled to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona from the Greek island of Rhodes. You will see it in the centre of the apse inside the sanctuary’s church.
5. Madonna del Monte Baldo – a 14th-century fresco of the Madonna and the Child Jesus. Nowadays you can see it above the Chapel of Confessions. This was the first image venerated in the very first chapel built at the sanctuary’s place.
6. Chapel of Confessions – you will find it halfway up the stairs leading to the sanctuary’s church. Apart from the 14th-century fresco, here you will also find the replica of the Scala Sancta.
7. Scala Sancta – called the Holy Stairs in English, this is a set of 28 steps made of marble. The original Scala Sancta are the steps on which Jesus stepped on his way to trial during his Passion. He was flagellated and his blood tinged the steps. The Scala Sancta was brought to Rome in the 4th century AD. Nowadays it can be seen in the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs which is near the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in the Italian capital. The Scala Sancta has been recreated in several places in Italy and the world. The Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona houses one such replica. Traditionally, the Scala Sancta needs to be scaled by believers on their knees. They also need to stop at each step to say a prayer and reflect on the Passions of Christ.
8. Stained glass windows inside the church – they are beautiful and represent the mysteries of the Rosary.
9. Ex-voto – a collection of 167 tablets of different sizes. The oldest one is from 1547 and it marks the miraculous saving of a woman who was about to drown in the river Adige.
10. The exhibition Mater Dolorosa – a collection of 80 statues of the Pieta which are among the most venerated ones in the world.
11. The hermits’ burial ground – glass urns contain the remains of some of the hermits who used to live at this place many centuries ago.
12. Six Veronese bells – cast in 1884 their silvery voices are very moving. Hearing the bells ring while you are gazing at the sanctuary and the surrounding mountains is a special moment.
How to Reach the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
There are two main ways to reach the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. Choosing one over the other will depend on how much time you have on your hands and how physically active you want to be getting there.
Here they are:
1. Pilgrim’s Path (also known as Hope’s Path) – this is the traditional (and until recently, the only) way to reach the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. It’s a hiking path which starts from the small town of Brentino Belluno in the Lagarina Valley in the province of Verona and takes you all the way up to the sanctuary. The path is about 2,425 m long. It includes 1540 steps. It has an elevation of 600 m and, allegedly, it can be covered in about two hours.
The path, they say, is very scenic. You can read all about it on the official website of the Pilgrim’s Path. The site is in Italian only but you can use Google Translate to orient yourself. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any first-hand information about this path as I visited the sanctuary via option 2 below.
2. Reaching the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona from Spiazzi – Spiazzi is a small town at a height of 850 m above sea level. The road taking you to Spiazzi offers fabulous views over the nearby Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake. It is best to reach Spiazzi by car. Otherwise, there is a public bus that can take you there from the nearby towns of Garda, Bardolino, and Cisano. Bear in mind that the bus only runs between June and October.
Once you reach Spiazzi by car, you need to park in the village. There is a large car park at the start of the road leading down to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. Bear in mind that you can’t drive down to the sanctuary itself.
We didn’t have any issues finding a place to park. Yet, keep in mind that the sanctuary is very popular and on festive days or during the summer season it can attract a large number of people.
Then you have three options:
- Shuttle bus – which will take you down to the sanctuary in about 10 mins. The shuttle bus leaves from Spiazzi every half an hour on weekdays and every 15 mins on holidays. Please, click on the link for up-to-date information and ticket prices. The shuttle bus is seasonal.
- Walk – you just need to follow the paved road which starts from Spiazzi and goes all the way down to the sanctuary. It’s about 1 km long and it’s the same road that the shuttle bus uses. It will take you past an alpaca farm followed by the Stations of the Cross by Raffaele Bonente. The road offers fabulous views over the vertical cliffs and the valley of the river Adige. A sturdy metal fence is in place as the heights are considerable.
- Use the steps – there is a long flight of steps which leads from Spiazzi down to the sanctuary.
At the end of the road, you will find the gallery which was dug in the rock in 1922. People stop there to light up candles before proceeding to the rocky terrace on which the sanctuary’s complex is built.
On our visit, we walked down to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona and on the way back we scaled the steps up to the village. It was not difficult but it took us quite a while as we stopped several times to admire first the alpacas, then the Stations of the Cross, and then the views of the valley and the sanctuary.
Practical Tips About Visiting the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
Here are some first-hand tried and tested practical tips to make your visit to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona as smooth as possible. Please, bear in mind that visiting the sanctuary is a pilgrimage in itself. No matter what your religious beliefs (or lack of) may be, you are welcome to visit and explore while showing your respect for the place, its history, and its religious importance.
Dress appropriately – shoulders and knees should be covered in the sanctuary’s area. If you don’t have a scarf, a jacket or anything else to cover yourself with, you can ask in the sanctuary’s shop for a cape to use.
Wear comfortable shoes – if you decide to walk up or down (depending on your starting point) to the sanctuary instead of taking the shuttle bus from Spiazzi, please, make sure that you wear comfortable shoes with good grip. The road from Spiazzi down to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is paved but it has a steep incline. Also, the steps leading from Spiazzi to the sanctuary are steep, too.
Respect religious services – the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is a place of silence and reflection. Mass is held several times a day. Sightseeing and photo-taking during religious services are discouraged. You can still walk into the church during mass but it’s best to sit down and listen (if you don’t want to join in) instead of walking around and disturbing the proceedings.
Stay hydrated – in summer it can get rather hot there. Bring a bottle of water with you. The sanctuary’s on-site cafe is a good place to have a drink and a light bite to eat. The cafe also has a spacious terrace with gorgeous views. There are several restaurants and cafes in Spiazzi, too.
Check the official website for up-to-date information – please, always refer to the official website of the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona for up-to-date information about visiting this extraordinary place. Click here to access the official website in English (it is also available in Italian, German, Spanish, and French). Click here to access the sanctuary’s Facebook page.
What Else To Do and See in the Vicinity of the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona
The Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is a great full- or half-day out from Verona, Vicenza, Padua or the small towns around Lake Garda.
Nearby you can also visit:
- Monte Baldo – a mountain range known as the Garden of Europe for its wide variety of plant life. From Monte Baldo, you can take the funicular down to Malcesine – a charming medieval walled town on the shores of Lake Garda. The cabin of the funicular swivels slowly as it goes up or down thus providing you with a 360-degree view of the mountain and the lake.
- Garda Town, Bardolino, Torri del Benaco or several other small towns on the shores of Lake Garda. To help you choose, please, click here for a list with the best 12 towns to visit around Italy’s largest lake.
- Valpolicella – a hilly area famous for the local vineyards and wine. It’s also dotted with beautiful little towns which are worth a visit.
- Verona – the city of Romeo and Juliet is less than an hour away from the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. It offers great sightseeing covering several different historical periods – from the Roman era to our modern times.
The Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is a special place to visit in the North of Italy. Built on the steep cliff face of the Monte Baldo massif, the sanctuary appears to be suspended halfway between Heaven and Earth. You will find it in the Province of Verona, a short distance away from Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake.
A visit to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona leaves beautiful memories. In a full- or half-day trip, you can reach the Sanctuary following either the old Pilgrim’s hiking path starting from the town of Brentino Belluno or walking on the more recently built paved road from the nearby village of Spiazzi. There is a shuttle bus option starting from Spiazzi, too.
The above blog post provides lots of practical information about how to reach the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona and what to see and do there. An abridged history of this special place is also included. If you are in that area of Italy, make sure that you put a visit to the sanctuary high on your must-see list.
More Helpful Links for Great Days Out around Lake Garda, in the Veneto and Italy
- Best 12 Towns to Visit Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
- 18 of the Best Cities to Visit in Northern Italy (With Travel Tips and Nearest Airports)
- Day Trips from Padua, Italy – Over 35 Unmissable Destinations in the Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna
- Day Trips from Verona – 16 Destinations to Fall in Love With (With Travel Times and Train Tips)
- Day Trips from Vicenza, Italy – Over 90 of the Best Destinations
- 11 of the Best Day Trips from Venice (With Lots of Photos, Travel Times and Italy Train Tips)
- Campo di Brenzone – A Great Day Trip to a Medieval Village in the Hills Above Lake Garda, Italy
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Spring in Northern Italy
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Winter in Northern Italy
- Trentino, Italy – Castles, Hikes, and Alpacas – The Perfect 4-Day Itinerary
- Italy with Kids – 17 Fun and Fabulous Things to Do in Italy for Kids and Parents
Which was the most unforgettable place of worship you have had a chance to visit? Have you already been to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona? What was your experience there? Please, share with me your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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