St. Oswald’s Sanctuary – SAURIS DI SOTTO/DÖRF

It appears that a document dating back to 1328, already proved the existence in Sauris di Sotto of a place of worship dedicated to St. Oswald. The worship of whom was probably brought by the founder members of the community, who came from Austria. In fact, this saint was particularly popular in southern Germany and in the alpine region as from the Middle Ages. Oswaldo lived in the 7th century and was King of Northumberland, a region in the north of England. He was killed in battle on 5th August 642. As a saint, he was invoked as a healer, a protector against the plague and from epidemics in general. According to a tradition, the presence of his relic in Sauris (his thumb) had protected the community from the plague epidemic in 1348 and the fame of this event had brought about the arrival of many pilgrims also from outside the area. Instead, from a historical point of view, the visits of pilgrims to the sanctuary was documented only as from 1515. It seems that initially the object of devotion was a wooden image of the saint, which was subsequently “replaced” by the relic, deemed responsible for miracles and many prodigious recoveries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the sanctuary in Sauris was one of the most famous and prestigious places of worship in the Republic of Venice, a destination visited by hundreds of pilgrims coming from the Friuli, Cadore areas as well as from the cities in the Veneto and in particular from Venice. To host them all, the building was extended and re-worked many times over the course of the centuries, as was seen also during the recent restauration. The exterior of the structure is characterised by the bell tower with its characteristic onion-shaped steeple; from its roof covered in larch shingles (scàndole); from its basement in locally-produced tuff, used also to mark the corners of the masonry; from the great rose window on the facade. The restoration works have brought to light part of the fresco decorations on the brickwork, the windows and lunettes of the apse, as well as a sundial dating back to 1785 and several writings left by the pilgrims between mid-17th and the early 18th centuries. Some gravestones bear witness to the presence of the old cemetery in the field where the church parvis used to be. Inside, the rectangular main body of the church is divided into three aisles by tuff pillars and arches. The splendid Flügelaltar (altar and doors) dominates the presbytery by Michael Parth from Brunico (Bruneck) in 1524. This altar, in carved, gilt and painted wood, is an example of the late German Gothic style. St. Oswald is in the centre, with Saints Peter and Paul at his sides; the underlying “predella” (base) contains an intense “Pietà” (image of pity). The doors are carved in bas-relief with scenes of the lives of Our Lady Mary and Jesus (on the inside) as well as some saints (on the outside). On the crown, among steeples and spires are the figures of the Virgin Mary with Child, angels and saints. At the bottom of the aisle on the right-hand side, there is another altar dedicated to St. Oswald, by Gian Francesco Comuzzo from Gemona (1658), on which some votive offerings have been hung (silver hands and arms). Halfway down the left aisle there is the altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Belt (Madonna della Cintura) a 17th century altarpiece. The worshipping of this altar became so popular that in 1725, the Confraternity bearing the same name was founded. Every year, its members received a blessed belt that was supposed to keep away all sorts of evil. At the bottom of the aisle there is another altar, dedicated to St. Sylvester (17th century). The ceiling is decorated with plain frescoes depicting the Death of St. Oswald and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Worthy of note are the processional banners silver plaques portraying St. Oswald and Our Lady of the Belt (Venetian manufacture – 18th century).