Taking the road that goes to the Grotta del Vento, about three kilometres past Gallicano, up until a few years ago the white building of an impressive sanctuary could be seen, characterized by a series of arches held up by slender sandstone columns. Today unfortunately this building is almost completely hidden by a thick vegetation which no one has bothered to remove.
The origins of this temple go back to ancient times. As far as is known it appears that the first worship place was a small cave made wider by chiselling out the rock about 1400 years ago. It is difficult to think that the great fascination of the place, the always mild temperature and presence of an abundant stream of fresh water would be left unnoticed by prehistoric man, from the Ligurians to the Etruscans, especially if it is considered that the latter also used another cave with similar characteristics as place of worship: the Buca di Castelvenere, near Cardoso (Gallicano), where more than eighty bronze votive statues were found. If it was possible to excavate under the apse of the eighteen-century church, precious testimony of this remote past would probably come to light, but this is highly improbable because it would mean destroying that jewel of Baroque art that is the main altar.
Those fortunate enough to visit the hermitage can see two underground cavities where throughout the signs of chiselled walls can be seen. In one of them accessible from the church, there is a unique sacristy decorated with beautiful 17th-century furniture which has been adapted to fit into the rock. The other, detached from the main part of the sanctuary, houses the so-called “old church”, which is accessed through the rustic building of the guest house. The name originates from the mistaken belief that this was the first place of worship. However it is a lot more probable that the Christian ceremonies started taking place in the much bigger cavity where the current church now stands. Today this cavity cannot be seen since it has been completely covered by walls and precious Baroque-style furnishings.
The old kitchen of the monks and their quarters are also very interesting, furnished in the sparse Franciscan style and up until a few years ago they could still be visited. The fascination and mystic atmosphere made it not only a tourist attraction, but also a way to relate with the beauty and perfection of the Creator enabling also those more resistant to the call of the Christian religion get closer to it.
Today however, of all of the complex, only the church can be visited, and only in the occasion of Sunday mass and during the main religious feasts. On weekdays the gate is nearly always closed, but even what can be seen behind the bars is rewarding.
It is hoped by many that the Curia will return this jewel for public use, precious both from a touristic point of view as well as a religious one.
The guest house at the side of the church once housed a restaurant serving numerous specialities of the Garfagnana cuisine. This has also been closed, but the owners have opened another one only 400 metres distance away, at the bottom of the far east face of the rock face standing above the sanctuary, also adding rooms for tourists and pilgrims who want to spend the night in such a charming place.