The Beautiful Alda

Original version
A beautiful peasant girl, named Alda, was working in the fields near the monastery, she came to the Sacra to pray against the evils of war; unfortunately, she was ambushed by enemy soldiers. She tried to escape their assault looking for shelter in the monastery but the doors of the monastery were locked. She found herself trapped at the top of a high tower, overlooking the valley from the steep mountain. Left with no other choice but to throw herself into the ravine she invoked the help of St. Michael and the Virgin. She miraculously survived because some angels helped her land unhurt at the bottom of the precipice. Out of vanity she recklessy tested the angels with a second leap believing she would be able to repeat her flight in front of the unbelieving villagers. Unfortunately as miracles never happen twice, she met her fate at the bottom of the rocks below. A proverb says that the biggest part that remained intact of Alda’s body was the ear. The Tower of the Beautiful Alda, takes its name from this legend.
Alternative versions
In the various editorial returns Alda is sometimes a farmer, sometimes a shepherdess. The seducers are sometimes French soldiers or admirers or guards. The helpers can be angels or little clouds. But all the versions have the same ending.
Main characters
Alda is a beautiful peasant girl Some soldiers The Virgin The Archangel Michael Some angels
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
The legend is connected to the medieval monastery Sacra di San Michele. The Sacra di San Michele, also known as the Abbey of St Michael of Chiusa, or Sagra of St Michael, is a huge group of buildings perched on top of Mount Pirchiariano, at the beginning of the Susa Valley, near the city of Turin, in Piedmont. The monument has become the symbol of Piedmont and it is one of the most famous religious buildings in the Alps. Built on a 26-metre basement at 960 metres above sea level, the Abbey overlooks the border between the Cozie Alps and the Po valley. Between XII and XV centuries it was one of the most important religious centres in Italy. Today it is still a Benedictine Abbey.
Local traditions or historical connections
The Sacra di San Michele lies in perfect geographic alignment with other Saint Michael monasteries, on a straight line going from Skellig Michael (Ireland), over Saint Michael’s Mount (Cornwall, England), including the pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint Michael (Symi island, Greece) before coming to an end in Jerusalem, at Mount Carmel.This is a ley line, believed to be a system of energetic highways. According to the legend this line has its origin in the sword blow with which the Archangel Michael defeated the devil and sent him back to hell. The santuaries lie on the same straight line and they are equidistant. According to the legend, this is an admonition to respect the divine laws in order to live according to God’s.teachings. Saint Michael’s line is also aligned with the setting of the sun on the summer solstice.
Didactical Relevance
The legend allows the students to discover a magic and mysterious place. The connection with Art and Gothic architecture is relevant, together with a didactic reference to Geography and the Alpine region. The Abbey is a landmark in Medieval History and the Italian novel "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco can vividly show what life in a medieval monastery was like.
Didactical Activity
Step 1. Start the didactical activity with Geography: start with a study of the Alpine region in Piedmont and in Italy (general characteristics of the Alps, their origin). Move on to a geolocalization of the city of Turin as the capital city of the region of Piedmont and focus on its geographical and economic importance in the economy of the region and of Norther Italy. Consider the network of connections (the railways, the highways, the airports) which make the city a “hub” for tourism, economy, culture. Find all the European and International destinations which can be easily reached from Turin. Find out the resources for tourism offered by the city, such as the museums, the monuments, the parks, the exhibitions, the theatres and opera house, the churches, the shopping districts and others. Step 2. History: focus on the importance of abbeys in medieval times, their location, their religious, social and economic value. Focus on the Sacra of Saint Michael and its history: when it was build, by whom, why, its importance during the middle ages and in the following centuries Step 3. Art: study of medieval architecture. Focus on the abbey itself and ask the students to watch the video and the virtual tour of the abbey. Ask them to point out the relevant artistic elements of the building. Ask them to find information on the other abbeys connected in the lay line and to compare the abbeys, pointing out the common elements and the differences in their artistic aspect Step 4.Literature : It is important to teach the students how to read a legend and to connect it to local traditions and history. Ask the students to read the legend and reflect on it. The presence of the “endangered girl or maiden” is common to many other legends all over Europe, ask the students to read the other legends by the partners on this “Parsifal” portal and to select those which have a girl as one of the characters, then ask them to find common elements and differences. To develop their creative writing ability, it is possible to ask the students to write their own version of the legend. A very famous international best seller by the Italian novelist Umberto Eco is set in an abbey in medieval times: ask the students to read the novel “The Name of the Rose”. Step 5: A class trip to Turin and to the Sacra di San Michele (full day)

Video

The sacra from above
A drone flies over the Sacra and shows the breathtaking view of the valley from the top of Mount Pirchiariano
The Sacra
A very short video of the monastery with Carmina Burana music

Images

The Beautiful Alda after falling off the tower
In 1884 the Italian writer Edoardo Calandra illustrated some episodes of the legend. Here Alda is lying on the ground. The image used as an introduction to the legend shows Alda falling off the tower. We were allowed to post these images by" La Civetta di Torino" (https://www.lacivettaditorino.it/) which holds the copyright
Piedmont and Turin
The Sacra di San Michele is 40 km from Turin, the capital city of the Italian region of Piedmont

Documents

A perfect geographic alignement
A perfect alignement of all the monasteries and abbeys on the mystic line

External Sources

The official site
This is the official site of Sacra di San Michele. It is possible to choose among different languages. It shows some historical information on the monument, opening times, directions to get there, news about the coming events. It also offers a virtual tour of the monastery, both outside and inside

PDF version of the legend in national language

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