This monument is a symbol of Piedmont Region and a place that inspired the writer Umberto Eco to conceive the best-seller “Il nome della rosa” ( The name of the rose ) , the Sacra of San Michele is an ancient abbey built between 983 and 987 on the top of mount Pirchiriano, 40 km from Turin. From it’s towers you can admire Turin and a breathtaking view of the Val di Susa. Inside the main Church of the Sacra, dating from the twelfth century, are buried members of House of Savoy (one of the oldest royal family in the world).
Dedicated to the cult of the Archangel Michele, defender of the Christian people, the Sacra di San Michele fits inside a ruote of pilgrimage (long over 2000 km) wich runs from Saint-Michel ( France ) to Monte Sant’Angelo (Puglia).
The history, the spiritual value and the landscape that sorrounds it trasform the Sacra in a special destination for visitors from all over Europe: pilgrims, faithfuls, tourists but also athletes who want to test themselves with climbing paths or mountain-bike.
The Sacra di San Michele offers to its public guided tours and events during all months of the year.
The different historical, architecture and painting sites are accessible to people with disabilities.
The great Staircase of the Dead and Portal of The Zodiac
From the entrance level the church is reached via a wide and steep grand staircase, which has been dated to the mid-twelfth century. After the first few steps, on the left is a pillar of over 18 meters that supports the floor of the church above; on the right there appears an outcrop of rock that is incorporated into the opposite wall. In the central niche several skeletons of monks were displayed until 1936, hence the name: Great Staircase of the Dead.
This “entrance hall” was once much used for the burial of distinguished men, abbots and worthies of the monastery. Some of the tombs were decorated with marble, others were plastered and painted: today there remain only five of these.
The Great Staircase of the Dead ends at the Portal of the Zodiac (1128-30), a Romanesque work carved by Master Nicolao, a famous architect and sculptor from Piacenza. It is so called because the jambs on the sides turned towards the staircase, are carved on the right with the twelve signs of the zodiac and on the left with the southern and northern constellations.
Most important, from an historical point of view, is the central side of the right jamb where, at the corners of a scene of hare hunting, there are two poems written in Latin, ending with the author’s signature.
The capitals are quite remarkable in their symbolism:
Cain and Abel
three angry people tearing at each other’s hair
the adventures of Samson
two women breastfeeding four snakes
four falcons in a circle
the rampant lion
three tritons (human busts on which fishtails are grafted)
The bases of the columns are also quite significant: three lions chasing each other and two griffins pecking at a man’s head.