At the foot of the jarring Schlern massif lies one of the most beautiful churches of the Dolomites. St. Valentin Chapel is blessed with a mountain backdrop so immediate and immense it makes one’s heart flutter with awe.
The chapel’s existence was first documented in 1244; however, the exact year it came to grace a hilltop below the Siusi Alps is not known. But in a way, one could say the chapel saw its first breath of life on February 14th in 269 AD. The day a Christian priest, known as Valentine, met his end at the edge of a sword.
His crime? Violating an edict issued by Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus that prohibited the marriage of young couples. The emperor believed unmarried soldiers made better warriors. His warped mind thought if soldiers had wives or children it would weigh too much on them in battle.
In 496, Pope Gelasius I inaugurated the Feast of Saint Valentine to be celebrated annually on February 14 in veneration of the Christian martyr. Hundreds of years later the chapel of St. Valentin was built to honor the saint. Fast forward hundreds of years more, and throngs of heart-shaped Hallmark cards with poetic effusions to love blanket marketplace shelves the world over each February.
That’s all fine and well, but we’ll take the reverant sight of St. Valentin Chapel over a dozen roses any day.
Here’s more about this historic hilltop jewel and how to enjoy it with your own eyes while adventuring in the Dolomites.
At the Gate of the Dolomites
Perched on a grassy knoll high above the idyllic village of Seis (Siusi), St. Valentin Chapel is a must-see for those spending time exploring the Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm), Europe’s largest Alpine prairie, which surges another 2,000 feet into the sky from where the chapel sits.
Its time-worn spire crowned with a crimson dome is impossible to miss no matter if you come into the village from the north or south.
Besides its picturesque pose below the Siusi Alp, St. Valentin Chapel is celebrated for its remarkable frescoes inside and on its outer walls. They date back to the 14th and 15th century.
We found one of the frescoes on the outer wall facing the village particularly intriguing as it shows the Three Kings greeting the infant Jesus with the peaks of the Dolomites in the background. The frescoes on this wall bask in the late afternoon sunlight creating shadows that dance hypnotically with the centuries-old scenery.
After admiring the medieval artwork, we took a seat at a nearby bench to let the South Tyrolean sun and antiquity wash over us. While sitting we spotted a castle ruin far away clinging to the mountainside. We later learned it was the crumbling fortress of Hauenstein Castle.
A relic from the 12th century, it was once home to Oswald Von Wolkenstein, a famed medieval minnesinger that followed in the footsteps of the Jim Morrison of medieval times — Walther von der Vogelweide.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Dolomites are a land littered with ancient legends…some as jolting as the peaks themselves. It came as no surprise then when we discovered the little chapel of St. Valentin bears a bull-size legend of its own.
For thousands of years, Schlern mountain has towered amid tales of witches. The tumultuous thunderstorms raging down from the craggy massif are said to be the spawn of spells cast upon the land. It’s only natural then that long ago — when explanations of the unknown spun readily from superstitions — the locals sought to protect themselves from the terrors of black magic.
Thanks to a wanderslusting bull, St. Valentin Chapel came to stand as more than a place of worship, but also as a guardian against the dark. An age-old legend tells of a bull roaming the sleepy hills of the chapel making a fortuitous discovery: a bell buried in the hillside. The bell, now known as the “The Bull of San Valentino” was hung in the spire. The witches of Schlern came to fear the bell as when it tolls it breaks their spell of storms.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we did not encounter any stormy weather during our visit thus did not get to hear the bell toll. But we did come across a cat creeping around the chapel. Clearly, a Schlern witch waiting to wreak havoc on wretched souls.
⇒ READ MORE: Hiking Where Witches Once Roamed in South Tyrol
How to Reach St. Valentin Chapel
A variety of trails can lead you to St. Valentin Chapel including one from the town of Castelrotto that takes about an hour to walk. However, we recommend visiting the chapel either before or after spending a day trekking the Alpe di Siusi.
Near a parking lot located in the heart of Seis is a brick-paved trail that winds up the hillside toward the chapel. After a 5-minute walk, you’ll come across another path carved under a row of trees that brings you to the chapel steps. To find the initial trail in Seis, simply follow the signposts.
Once on the trail, you cannot miss the chapel unless you’re entirely consumed by the enormity of the Siusi Alp storming upward from the forested slopes. Seeing the iconic Schlern massif from this vantage point is at its most breathtaking.
Unfortunately, touring inside the chapel is not possible without making a special appointment. But the outside of St. Valentin with its sweeping views is so breathtaking it does not really matter.
After soaking in the sights, hop back on the paved brick and walk uphill a few more minutes to a farmstead. Here, you can watch South Tyrol’s famous Haflinger horses gracefully graze under a mature grove of apple trees.
If you’re visiting the chapel in the afternoon as we did, we recommend grabbing dinner in Seis. The village is easy to walk and you’ll find a number of establishments to pick from.
We ate at the Restaurant Pizzeria Zum Woscht and delighted in pizza accompanied by a bottle Lagrein from Cantina Tramin. Afterward, we suggest visiting the parish church of Sciliar located on the edge of the village center. While not as scenic as St. Valentin Chapel, it possesses a peaceful Alpine cemetery that is well worth strolling through.
TAP TO SAVE ST. VALENTIN CHAPEL TO YOUR TRAVEL BOARD