Each vineyard has its crucifix, each path its wayside shrine,
Where flowers adorn the Virgin’s brow, and crown the Child divine;
And few will pass those sacred spots without a lifted eye,
A crossing of the weary breast, a prayer, — at least a sigh.
John L. Stoddard – 1903
In a time when much of the modern world shies away from celebrating spiritual faith, South Tyrol stands apart. Tradition here is embraced and nourished. South Tyroleans maintain heartfelt respect for the solemn act of worship — cultivating a historic cultural garden unlike anywhere else in Europe.
The preservation of centuries-old religious customs and symbols is one of South Tyrol’s more charming aspects. Travelers to this blessed land get to reap the benefits. You’ll take in sacred sights that can deeply move you as much as the immense beauty of the landscape.
To this day, South Tyroleans creatively express their faith through a custom born in Christianity’s earliest years. Ancient Rome’s persecution of the first Christians made the open construction of churches virtually impossible. In their place, the faithful erected small monuments with cryptic Christian symbols to conceal worship from Rome’s soldiers. These hidden “signposts” became the earliest Christian shrines.
When Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, decriminalized Christianity in 313 A.D. by issuing the Edict of Milan, mass persecution of Christians ended. Churches sprung up across Catholic Europe and the tradition of hidden shrines evolved into open illuminations of faith.
Each Path its Wayside Shrine
Today, one cannot wander in South Tyrol without encountering the sacred craftsmanship of wayside shrines. Whether we’re hiking a high mountain trail or meandering along a path in a valley, we always find them a delightful surprise. They seem to welcome you out of nowhere — poetically watching over the trail. Inviting a moment of prayer or reflection.
Set along paths, roads and nestled in quaint village nooks, South Tyrol’s wayside shrines come in an array of shapes and sizes. No matter how big or small, simple or elaborate, local residents take great care to beautifully harmonize them with the natural surroundings.
Each is tenderly crafted from wood or stone. And within many you’ll find a crucifix or an image of the Madonna hauntingly expressed in various artistic forms. Some also bear rosaries, photographs and other thoughtfully-carved prayers and blessings. The faithful will even keep candles burning, softly lighting all that the shrine holds. Quite often native flowers spring from the foot of shrines intimately binding them with heaven and earth.
Whether your South Tyrolean adventures carry you to the heights of the Dolomites or through the bountiful orchards flourishing within valleys, you’ll come across shrines and crucifixes. Some of our favorites are along South Tyrol’s Waalwegs, ancient water channels that weave throughout the mountains and vineyards bestowing pure Alpine water from snow-capped peaks.
You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to find South Tyrol’s wayside shrines enchanting. When you unexpectedly encounter one set among climbing vines in a steeply-terraced vineyard or deep within the solitude of an Alpine forest, taking a moment to admire their artistic beauty and the soulful devotion of faithful worshipers who safeguard each one is a reward unto itself.
If you’re not familiar with South Tyrol, discover why we think it’s Italy’s best kept secret. Check out our post on why South Tyrol belongs at the top of your travel wish list.
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