The Sanctuary of Montallegro is the Sanctuary of the people of Rapallo and one of the most important Marian sites in Liguria. It was built to celebrate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the peasant Giovanni Chichizola on 2 July 1557 on the ridge of what had until then been called Mons Leti, the Mount of Death, and whose name, following that event, was changed to Mons Laetus (an adjective with the opposite meaning ‘happy’) and hence Montallegro. Built in 1559 at the express wish of the Virgin, who, according to tradition, told Chichizola ‘Go and tell the Rapallesi that I want to be honoured here’, it has since become a point of reference for the entire Ruentina community. Every year, the anniversary of the apparition is celebrated with the famous patron saint’s festivities that take place over three days, 1, 2 and 3 July, with religious celebrations in the Basilica and at the Sanctuary and with grandiose night and day fireworks displays over the sea.
The church’s beautiful marble façade was designed by architect Revelli in the late 19th century. Inside, the vaults are frescoed by the great Genoese painter Nicolò Barabino and the altars are a riot of decorations and polychrome marble. On the walls, hundreds of ex-votos, mostly paintings, embroideries and bas-reliefs in precious metals, testify to the devotion of the faithful to Our Lady of Montallegro and the countless graces received by those who have turned to Her in times of need.
On the high altar, the miraculous image left by the Madonna at the site of the apparition as a pledge of love to the community of Rapallo is kept, along with the prodigious gushing of a spring, whose waters were channelled into a small fountain that still stands in the side chapel of the Sanctuary.
The small painting, a Byzantine icon of rare workmanship, is the protagonist of another miraculous anecdote: after being placed in the Sanctuary, it was noticed by some people from Dubrovnik who were visiting it and was claimed by them, claiming that it came from the city of Dubrovnic, in Dalmatia. It was decided to send the icon to what seemed to be its place of origin but, during the ship voyage to Dalmatia, the icon mysteriously disappeared and was found in the shrine. The people of Dubrovnik understood the divine sign and left the miraculous picture in Rapallo.
The Sanctuary stands in a splendid panoramic position, about 600 metres above sea level, on the ridge of the mountain in the middle of a dense holm oak forest. From the forecourt, there is an extraordinary view of the western coast of the Tigullio Gulf, with the towns of Rapallo and Santa Margherita interspersed with the inlets of San Michele and Paraggi, up to the unmistakable outline of the Portofino promontory.
Connected to the centre of Rapallo by a carriage road and a public transport bus service, the Sanctuary can also be reached by cable car that leaves from the centre of Rapallo and reaches Montallegro in just six and a half minutes, while offering a spectacular view of the entire gulf from a privileged position.
The white façade of the church is preceded by a pedestrian walkway and a high flight of steps that add to its sense of peace, but make it difficult for the disabled to access. Since 2010, a lift for those with walking difficulties has been in operation, leading directly to the square in front of the shrine.
Once the Sanctuary is reached, ancient mule roads open up, connecting the Sanctuary with Uscio, Cicagna, Chiavari, and the Ligurian hinterland, as well as roads for trekking and mountain-biking enthusiasts. For those travelling by train, simply get off at Rapallo station, and immediately behind the same station, you will find the cable car to reach the Sanctuary. For those travelling by car or coach, on the A12 motorway, the exit is Rapallo.