The Sanctuary of San Romedio is one of those places that you can never forget. It is not only because of the architectural beauty of the building, which impresses the visitor with its five small churches built on top of each other: From the very first moment, you are impressed by the noticeably lively atmosphere and the votive offerings decorating the walls along the 131 steep steps of the sanctuary.
Who was San Romedio?
Romedio originated from the noble Bavarian family of Thaur and came to the Val di Non valley in search of an austere and sober life. The wild and secluded gorge where the pilgrimage church is to be found today, was the ideal place for his hermitage and a life in close contact with nature.
The residents of the surrounding villages often sought advice from Romedio, a wise and spiritual but also well-educated man who was able to study thanks to his bourgeois origins. Even after his death, people came to visit his grave and prayed to him asking for graces. This was the beginning of the cult of San Romedio.
A look into the past through the ex-voto of San Romedio
To this day, the sanctuary still exerts a great attraction on the faithful, as shown by the numerous votive offerings decorating the walls of the steep staircase. Once, the ex-voto were painted panels depicting various situations in which San Romedio intervened to help. Just like today's votive offerings, these panels were placed along the staircase and thus exposed to humidity as well as strong temperature fluctuations of this place. The Province of Trento successfully secured and restored 120 of the precious paintings. Today, the panels can be found in three rooms of the sanctuary set up by the Office for Monument Protection of the Province of Trento.
The oldest ex-voto dates from 1591 and shows the gratitude of a member of the Inama family from Fondo for the protection granted by the saint during a war. The other panels date back to the early 17th to 19th century and portray what life was like back then: You can see accidents caused by overturned carts, illness, a knight fallen from a horse, a carpenter fallen from a roof, a woman possessed by an evil spirit, a man who escaped from drowning, an armed bandit attack, a farmer asking for his cattle to be healed.
Some of these votive images also reflect the sanctity of the place where the Sanctuary is situated – that same sanctity that attracted Romedio to the narrow gorge we cross today on the famous rocky path. An ex-voto from 1727, entitled “The Possessed” shows a woman being freed from an evil spirit. This picture authentically portrays the steep slopes of the gorge, the stream at the bottom of the valley and the rocky outcrop with the pilgrimage site on it.
Modern votive offerings
Every year, 200,000 people visit the Sanctuary of San Romedio – among them there are many believers and pilgrims. The monks living here say that the attraction that emanates from this place impresses even sceptics: When crossing the threshold of the church, it is as if one leaves all tension behind and enters with a feeling of liberation.
This is also due to the fact that this is a vivid place of faith: Masses are held, Franciscan friars welcome visitors to their guesthouse and pilgrims place their votive offerings on the walls of the interior staircase. As you climb the 131 steps, you are accompanied not only by pictures but also by small handicrafts, photographs, newspaper clippings, crutches, bibs, embroidery, drawings and stuffed animals. All of these are modern expressions of thanksgiving for a danger that has been averted, for the arrival of a new baby, for an unexpected healing or for the helping hand of San Romedio in general.
The Franciscan friars, custodians of the monastery, tell that the faithful often place their votive offerings themselves on the few remaining free spots of the wall. Others prefer to hand their object and hence their personal story to the friars, asking them to find the right place for it. In doing so, the friars take great care to ensure that the objects are placed in safe positions. Once the walls have been filled, they carefully remove some of the objects to create space for new ones. With the same care, the removed objects are catalogued and stored in the sanctuary premises.
Make sure to take a moment the next time you visit the famous Sanctuary of San Romedio and look at the life pictures of the people expressing their gratitude for the grace they have received from the saint with the bear!