Have you ever heard of the San Romedio sanctuary? I am sure you have because this gem is the envy of the whole of Europe! The building is an ancient hermitage where, according to legend, Saint Romedio lived with his bear. Is this why everyone up here is said to be a bit grumpy, like a bear with a sore head? Joking apart, let me tell you this: if you come to the Val di Non, put San Romedio right at the very top of your list of things to see.
Why’s that? I will give you at least three good reasons. Let’s leave the bear until last, trust me, there is much more. Above all, there is the magic of the place. Five little churches stacked on top of each other, all built on a rocky outcrop joined together by a long staircase with 131 steps. Exhausting! But don’t complain, when you get up there you will thank me for it.
Second reason? The path in the rock that leads to the hermitage. Enchanting, relaxing, a little bit vertiginous: in short, it is the perfect way to prepare yourself emotionally for your visit to the San Romedio Sanctuary.
And, last of all, the famous bear. Don’t rush to judgement. Hear me out about why the bear is here.
You see, in the Val di Non everything has a reason, let me explain.
The legend of the Trentino bear and San Romedio
The San Romedio Sanctuary is often best known for the nature reserve next to the entrance where a bear lives in semi-captivity, a mascot for all the children in the Val di Non.
The presence of a Trentino bear in this place of worship is linked to the legend which says that Romedio, by then an old man, set off for the city determined to meet the bishop of Trento, Vigilio. Along the way, his horse is said to have been mauled by a bear but Romedio remained unbowed and as he approached the beast he was miraculously able to calm it and ride it to Trento. When he returned from Trento, Romedio decided to dedicate his life to the hermitage and the bear became his sole companion until his death.
In memory of this legend, in 1958 the Senator Count Gian Giacomo Gallarati Scotti, honorary member of the founding committee of the WWF in Italy, bought Charlie, a bear which would otherwise have died because its fur had been sold and donated him to the San Romedio Sanctuary. Since then, the nature reserve at the San Romedio Sanctuary has offered shelter to other bears from Trentino and elsewhere which otherwise would met a similar fate. Today, the San Romedio Sanctuary is home to “Bruno”, a beautiful Abruzzo bear.