Sanctuary of SS. Maria ad Rupes

Santuario Ss. Maria ad Rupes

The sanctuary on the clifftop of Castel Sant’Elia

The Sanctuary of SS. Maria ad Rupes stands upon the side of the ravine flanking the town of Castel Sant’EliaThese surroundings of great allure and fascination, bind spirituality and nature together.

Such a place of prayer and peace startles the visitor as it suddenly leads one into such a remote dimension which appears to be cut off from the rest of the world. The Sanctuary can be accessed through a long tree-lined path, at the end of which you will find the Basilica of San Giuseppe, the entry way to the panoramic viewpoint and to the Stairs of Friar Rodio.

Then, on the right, there are some gardens overlooking a sheer drop to the Suppentonia valley below. From here, as you gaze ahead into the distance, you will see the town of Castel Sant’Elia and, on the horizon, the outline of a church’s dome, that of San Tolomeo in Nepi.

Valle Suppentonia dal Santuario

Valle Suppentonia dal Santuario

Entrata della Scalinata di Fra' Rodio

Entrata della Scalinata di Fra' Rodio

Santuario di ad Rupes

Santuario di ad Rupes

Basilica di San Giuseppe

Basilica di San Giuseppe

The stairs of Friar Rodio

The very first cult to be practiced here, dates back to the year 520, when a group of hermit monks occupied some recesses within the tuff rock-faces of the area.

One of these caves became their place of prayer, as it contained a much-venerated fresco painting depicting the Madonna and Child.

During their stay, it was the Benedictine monks who built the Basilica of Sant’Elia which lies on the bottom of the valley. The Sanctuary was then abandoned in 1258 and remained uninhabited for the following five centuries, although throughout this period religious worship was kept alive by the people of the area.

It was finally thanks to the arrival of the Franciscan friar Andrea Rodio in 1777 that the sanctuary became once again an important pilgrimage destination. So as to ease the flow of pilgrims, the friar spent 14 years delving a flight of steps into the rock cliff. These 144 steps allow one to descend directly down to the Cave of the Madonna. Rodio also undertook the building of the so-called Trail of the Saints, leading downward to the Basilica of Sant’Elia, which is no longer accessible today.

The venerated image of the Madonna and Child is conserved within the Cave. The present painting is thought to have replaced the original fresco which has faded throughout the years. This painting presents a peculiar feature of Catholic iconography, it can in fact be included among those rare images which represent the mother adoring the child as he sleeps laying upon her legs.


Descending from the Belvedere

Immediately left of the Stairs of Friar Rodio, an alternative path stretches down to the Cave of the Madonna. This route might be longer but is just as enchanting.

The track takes a sharp turn as it descends towards the valley, flanking the ridge and overlooking all along the breath-taking view of the deep ravines. From here the Soratte Mount stands out crisp and sharp against the horizon. Along the way one encounters small cultivated areas, several gardens and caves.

This gliding path comes to an end when it arrives at the Keeper’s House, from where one can reach the Stairs of Friar Rodio.


The Basilica of San Giuseppe

The Basilica of San Giuseppe was built between 1908 and 1910 so as to welcome an ever-increasing number of pilgrims. This is the first building one encounters when reaching the end of the tree-lined path. This single nave, Gothic-style church, was designed by the engineer Carlo Waldis. The front portal bears a bas relief representing Saint Joseph with the Baby Jesus, and on both sides, stand two great statues: Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Anthony of Padua.


One of the most beautiful sanctuaries of the Lazio region is hidden here, in the small town of Castel Sant’Elia. Come and discover the wonders of the Agro Falisco!

Where is the Sanctuary of Ss. Maria ad Rupes


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