The Madonna of Solitude

A devotional icon at the foot of Mt. Croda Rossa

The church of Madonna of Solitude, built in Nuoro in the early 1600s, is a beloved small structure cherished by the people of Nuoro (Sardinia), who hold devotion to the Virgin and the unspoiled environment close to their hearts. By assonance, my thoughts also turn to Grazia Deledda’s last novel, “La chiesa della Solitudine” (The Church of Solitude), written in 1936. The book features a protagonist who, like the author herself, was suffering from cancer.

However, in Cortina, we also find the Madonna of Solitude, located in the heart of the Dolomiti d’Ampezzo Park, and it is this subject that I wish to discuss today.

In recent years, the topic of solitude has been extensively discussed due to the lockdown, mostly with a negative connotation. Nevertheless, there are situations where solitude becomes a pleasant condition, a moment of peace and tranquility. The Madonna of Solitude is placed in a delightful and secluded spot, rarely visited by a few hikers who willingly escape the noise of “civilization.” Thus, seclusion from others can be experienced with pleasure or sorrow, depending on the circumstances. In English, these two different aspects are simply expressed by two distinct words, “solitude” and “loneliness,” referring respectively to the pleasure or pain felt in exclusionary conditions.

In our case, if you get the chance to visit the small statue of the Virgin, I am certain that you will appreciate a wholesome moment of escape from city life, and being alone will not weigh you down.

The Madonna of Solitude in the Wild Heart of the Ampezzo Natural Park

A few months ago, a plaque was placed near the Madonna of Solitude in memory of the fixed bivouac Pia Helbig Dall’Oglio in Val Montejèla, promoted by engineer Marino Dall’Oglio and built in 1964 by the Antonio Berti Foundation. It was inaugurated on September 19, 1965, and demolished in 2013 due to decades of improper use that had degraded it.

In that secluded place at the foot of Mt. Croda Rossa, there is a statue that watches over the rocks; the story of its placement and the origin of the poetic name, adopted as a toponym and recorded in some maps and publications, deserve a brief mention.

We are at about 2000 meters at the foot of the Jeràlbes, the rocky band that supports the Val Montejèla to the northwest, the wild heart of our Ampezzo Natural Park. Here, the path that ascends from Ra Stua towards the Croda Rossa splits.

Leaving the one numbered with 0 and officially closed by the Park to the left, which joins the path directed to Fòsses near the cross dedicated to the shepherd Simone Alverà Grisc, ours continues steeply on a grassy slope until it ends where the Bivouac used to stand.

Val Montejèla

At the fork, on September 29, 1946, the Ampezzans Illuminato de Zanna Bianco and Guido Ghedina Ponuco wanted to place a statue of the Virgin in a niche on the above Jeràlbes on their own initiative, dedicating it to the solitude of the place, where passersby were rarer at the time.

The gesture is now lost in memory: the two enthusiasts have been gone for decades, but the small statue still watches over the passersby, has given its name to the place, and at the end of the 20th century, its solitude was alleviated by unknown individuals who placed a painted tile next to it in memory of a young deceased woman.

Now, right at the foot of the Madonna of Solitude, the Cortina Section of CAI (Italian Alpine Club) has also wanted to add a plaque to dutifully remember the bivouac that is no longer there and its generous financier.

The rock wall has thus been filled with symbols, including the now-faded inscriptions with the initials of de Zanna and Ghedina, the dates of the placement of the statuette, and the last visit of Illuminato, who climbed up there at the age of 86 in 1982. There are also traces of a climb by Eugenio Cipriani, and it is hoped that all this will be sufficient.

In respect of history, culture, and people, the Madonna of Solitude – one of the devotional testimonies enriching our territory – should always be kept in order, or at the very least, it would be useful to preserve and enhance the toponym born from the faith of those who placed the Madonna in that solitary place, thanking her for the end of the war and the many hardships that had also involved Cortina.

Enrico Maioni Mountain Guide Dolomiti

Enrico Maioni

Certified Mountain Guide, with a wide know-how of the Dolomiti.
I was born in the heart of the Dolomites, where I live and work to this day.
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