Nestled on a hill 618 m high, 7 kilometres from Cividale, is the fortified sanctuary of Castelmonte (Stara gora nad Čedadom), one of the most visited religious sites in Friuli.
Archaeological findings testify that the church stands on the site that was originally occupied by a Roman military outpost.
After the arrival of Christianity a church dedicated to Archangel Michael was erected on Castelmonte, and to this day he remains the patron saint of the crypt that lies below the church. Michael’s lance pierces through Satan, symbolising the victory of Christianity over paganism. Later, a church was built above the sanctuary, dedicated to St. Mary. It is not known when exactly it was built, but a document has been preserved from the 8th century, reporting on Benedictine nuns who went on a pilgrimage to St. Mary of Castelmonte every year.
In the middle ages, Castelmonte became the most popular pilgrimage site in the area, drawing pilgrims from the Gorizia region, Carniola, Carinthia and even Styria. Castelmonte was administered by provost from Cividale, later by canons of the Cividale cathedral chapter. These preserved a record of the pilgrimage to Castelmonte:
“When the pilgrims start the journey to the Mountain, they grow solemn, start to pray and sing sacred songs. Usually they stop at every column and recite a decade. Pilgrims abide by an ancient habit of preparing wooden crosses that they leave at the columns or stations. It is said that whoever goes to Castelmonte for the first time, must have such a cross and bring it with to place it next to Mary’s image somewhere in the middle of the mountain.”
The church was reconstructed to its present day image in 1744, preserving the beautiful marble 17th-century altars and the 15th-century statue of St. Mary. The statue is one of the most beautiful images of Mary far and wide, and Slovenian pilgrims call it Beautiful Mary or Living Mary.
Castelmonte is important for Slovenians also because of the Castelmonte manuscript, one of the oldest documents in Slovenian language that dates back to the late 15th century and comprises the same prayers as the Klagenfurt manuscript.
Photo: Wikipedia, user Aconcagua