The only structures that possibly dominate the South Tyrol countryside more than castles are churches, chapels, shrines and monasteries. You’ll encounter a remarkable number of fascinating Christian religious relics and dwellings to explore and photograph.
Taking the time to discover and admire the unique architectural, artistic and historic importance of religion to South Tyrol through the centuries is one of the more rewarding activities you’ll do while visiting.
The Sabiona Monastery
The steep cliff that supports the Sabiona Monastery above the village of Chiusa has been the site of religious pilgrimages going back to the 5th century. According to legend, Saint Cassian of Imola founded the monastery around the year 350. Many considered it the foundation of Christianity in South Tyrol and devout South Tyroleans view the rugged peak as their “holy mountain”.
Even though the monastery itself is not accessible to tourists due to Benedictine rules, you can still make the trek to this immense landmark and visit its four ornate churches. The trail leading to Sabiona passes by the Stations of the Cross and allows you take in the impressive view of the Isarco Valley as you hike up.
The Church of St. Johann
The view of mountain ranges colliding with green pastures is best experienced through the backdrop of the Church of St. Johann in the Dolomites. The small Baroque church with bulbous tower stands out as a sanctuary against the looming mountainsides.
Inside, an altar constructed of marbled wood welcomes pilgrims to offer a prayers or take a moment for self-reflection. Trompe-l’œil paintings create an illusion of a fairy tale coming to life.
The Brixen Cathedral – Cathedral of the Assumption
The centerpiece in the town center of Brixen, the Cathedral of the Assumption features two immaculately-built towers that draw a picturesque contrast with the nearby mountains. The Cathedral dates to the 10th century and reflects Romanesque and Baroque architecture styles through the 18th century.
The interior flourishes with centuries-old paintings and ornate craftsmanship abounds from every nook and cranny providing plenty of opportunity to overload your sense of wonder.
The Church of St. Nicholas
The gothic Church of St. Nicholas in Merano was constructed beginning in the 14th century in dedication to the town’s patron saint. The church is stunning from the ground and especially from above when strolling along the Tappeiner Promenade.
It holds intricately-carved wooden sculptures of saints, colorful stained glass and a large rose window. Outside, the ornate clock tower bears a sundial — perfect considering Merano enjoys 300+ days of sunshine each year.
The Great Tradition of South Tyrol’s Alpine Wayside Shrines
Wayside shrines have a rich history in South Tyrol and abundantly appear along hiking paths and in nooks throughout neighborhoods. These religious markers historically were created to commemorate a tragic incident, guide religious pilgrims along their voyage or honor the memories of victims.
A place for weary travelers to rest and pray, even the oldest shrines are still carefully attended to by local residents. The wide array of sizes, shapes and materials used to construct the shrines demonstrate the artistic talents and religious devotion of the local population. Many of these religious markers hold candles, rosaries, photographs and thoughtfully-crafted wood carvings.
Quite often native flowers decorate the wayside shrines of South Tyrol adding to their charm and harmoniously blending in with the natural beauty of the landscape.