The history of the Sanctuary of Vicoforte began in 1594, although the legend of how it became to be began some fifty years prior, when a wayside shrine dedicated to the Madonna was built in what then was a wooded area. It’s said that the wayside shrine was accidentally shot by a hunter, and began to bleed. It was for that reason that devotion to the shrine grew over the years, and in 1594, after a terrible pest epidemic, a small chapel was built around the shrine (by request of priest Cesare Trombetta) and in the following years, a bigger church was built. As word of the miracle spread, people from as far away as Liguria and southern France began to make the pilgrimage. Duke Carlo Emanuel I wanted this new and popular place of devotion to become the religious capital of his realm, and to be worthy enough to be the pantheon of the House of Savoy, containing the mortal remains of the sovereign family.
The Sanctuary, however, was completed only in the 18th century. Architect Francesco Gallo accepted the enormous challenge of building the church’s roof. On the sandstone base chosen by his predecessor, Ascanio Vitozzi, Gallo built a brick tambour (or drum) in order to complete the majestic dome, which is considered to be the world’s largest elliptical dome.
Since 2015, the ascent to visit the top of the Sanctuary has not only been a spiritual and artistic one, but also visual, thanks to Kalatà (an association dedicated to the promotion of tourism and cultural events) that created this extraordinary tour. Magnificat is a guided tour of the inside and outside the Sanctuary, which allows you to discover fascinating and suggestive parts of the church, whilst climbing towards the top, where you reach the inner gallery at the base of the cupola, and can admire its magnificent fresco, up close. At that point, you need only to raise your head to feel completely immersed in the painting, or lower it, to relish the magnificence of this spectacular church. Continue your ascent up into the smaller dome, at a height of 75 meters, where you can touch history with your own hands and learn what is required to preserve this fragile jewel. The tour’s ascent ends when you reach the outer balcony, where you can admire a breathtaking view of the Alps and hills which surround this beautiful and peaceful place.
The ambitious project of Carlo Emanuele I (completed by the construction of a series of small chapels dedicated to the mystery of the rosary, which led pilgrims on their faithful journey to the Sanctuary) was not successful. The remains of the royal family of the House of Savoy are located in Turin at the pilgrimage church Superga. The remains of King Carlo Emanuele I lie at the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, along with his extraordinary project. However, in 2017, another monarch found his eternal resting place inside this Sanctuary, Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III and his spouse, Maria Elena, transferred there from their previous burial sites, Alexandria (Egypt) and Montpelier (France).
Once you exit the church, it is worthwhile to take a walk under the arcades which surround the sacred building. In the plans of the 18th century architects, the Sanctuary was the most beautiful gem, set in the natural rosary that this part of Piedmont was to become. The Sanctuary of Vicoforte is only a few kilometers from Mondovì, the city of printing presses, a University, cloisters… a place of knowledge, tradition and prayer. While visiting the Sanctuary, it’s worth it to take a lunch break at the Casa Regina Montis Regalis. Today, this renovated convent has a hotel, restaurant “La Tavola del Chiostro”, a convention center and a spirituality center, where it’s possible to participate in pastoral activities. At “La Tavola del Chiostro” you can taste traditional specialties, prepared fresh with seasonal products, with particular attention on using local produce and wine.