A Cyclist's Pilgrimage

Italy's Madonna del Ghisallo, the Patron Saint of Cycling
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Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo

The doors of the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo beckoned to me. I clenched my hat tightly as I crossed the threshold from bright sun to the half-light of the interior. The small building seemed at once to grow larger, and the soft yellow light illuminated rows of bicycles, cycling jerseys, and wall plaques of inscribed fading photos. In the musty air of this church, I felt the presence of the names that adorned the bicycles hung from the rafters.

The Madonna del Ghisallo is, simply, the patron saint of cyclists, a bestowance made in 1949 by Pope Pious XII. In the 50 years since, her chapel, located on a hilltop in the northern Italian hamlet of Magriglio, has become equal parts functional religious site and cycling museum, filled with artifacts and photos tracing the sport's 100+ year history.

I made the journey two years ago from the northern city of Milan. The ride is a hefty roundtrip journey of 75 or so miles, and not for the inexperienced or faint of heart. Some of it involves exiting the extensive suburbs around the city, and the final climb to the chapel is steep and hard. On top of that, when you're done you still have to ride back to Milan. Still, the route along Lago di Lecco (the east"leg" of the Lago di Como) and the ascent are world-class and gorgeous.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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