We are in Italy, in Genga, Marche region, near the magnificent Frasassi Caves dug in limestone by the Sentino river. Here an elegant octagonal church rises among the pointed and beveled rocks of a gorge between the mountains: it is the Temple of Valadier.
The Temple, designed by Giuseppe Valadier (Rome, 1762-1839), cuts a striking neo-classical silhouette against the rough hewn edges of the surrounding natural cave walls, looking like the temple itself was trying to seek refuge in the cave.
In reality it was the local population that has been taking refuge in the caves for hundreds of years: since at least the 10th century they has been taking shelter in the large cave in which the temple now sits, usually hiding out from attacks from marauding enemy tribes, and when tribes from today’s Hungary raided the area.
Remains of these earlier uses of the cave were uncovered when the temple was built in 1828 at the behest of the reigning pope, Leone XII, born Annibale Sermattei della Genga. A crude hermitage was also installed right near the entrance to the temple. The ornate design features a domed roof covering an octagonal silo structure, and the luminous symmetry of its eight sides symbolize the Resurrection of Jesus, which occurred “on the eighth day”.
The isolated mountain temple is known as the “Refuge of Sinners,” and acted as a pilgrimage site for those seeking forgiveness. The interior originally held a marble Madonna and Child sculpted by Italian artist Antonio Canova. However, the original has been moved to a local museum and a replacement was installed in the temple. While the idiosyncratic hidden temple is more of a tourist attraction than a site of solemn prayer, the shrine inside is still a religious site kept in good order.