In Torino, the Tower is a must

Updated: February 21, 2006, 5:07 PM ET
By Brian Church | Special to ESPN.com

Chased by soldiers, the beautiful girl climbed to the top of the tower and threw herself off to a certain death.

Miraculously, she was caught by an angel. Some time later, she repeated the jump to prove to disbelieving friends the miracle actually happened.

Brian Church/ESPN.comA young girl twice leapt from the top of the Tower, according to local legend. The first time ended better than the second.

Make that one out of two.

It all happened at the Tower of Alda the Beautiful, part of the 1,000-year-old Sacra di San Michele monastery, which is a must-see for visitors to the Torino Games. Moral of the tale: We can only jump off incredibly high towers if our motives are pure.

Please read the next sentence 20 times: ESPN.com has no legal responsibility for anyone who jumps off anything.

The guide at the San Michele monastery -- deep in Winter Olympics territory in the Susa Valley -- looked shocked when I asked her if it's a popular suicide point. Nobody has ever tried to commit suicide there, she said firmly.

(However, fans of the Seattle Seahawks recently lobbed Super Bowl referee Bill Leavy off the tower. The controversial official was one meter from death when the Hand of God cushioned his fall. "You see, Bill, it's nowhere near touching," the Almighty reportedly said.)

Sacra di San Michele is 3,000 feet above sea level, plus a walk at the end involving 300 steps. The Austrian Olympic team has inquired if they can stay there -- not for the excellent views, but in the hope Italian police will run out of gas.

The word "Sacra" means consecrated, or sacred. Priests from the Rosminian Fathers run the monastery, which looks down on a sea of green or white, according to the season. Pope John Paul II visited here in 1991.

Nearby, we have the Mountain of the Pigs, Mountain of the Donkeys and Mountain of the Goats. Guidebooks say the names are probably linked to old Celtic religions, so expect future generations to be puzzled over 21st century spiritual movements like Mountain of the Marijuana and Mountain of the Andy Griffith.

At night, the illuminated abbey is great to view from afar. Hollywood could do a lot with this place.

Brian Church/ESPN.comSacra di San Michele monastery inspired the Sean Connery film "The Name of the Rose."

Scrap that, it already has. Local Torino boy Umberto Eco's novel, "The Name of the Rose," was inspired by Sacra di San Michele, and the book led to the 1986 film of the same name starring Sean Connery.

A religious community has been here for more than 1,000 years. I missed the first bit of a fascinating historical overview by our tour guide Delia, but, to pick up where she was when I entered, in 2004 nothing happened.

The biggest attraction for me was also the monastery's biggest letdown. The "Staircase of Death" is actually "Stairway of the Dead" because bodies of monks and local celebrities were buried on the side. According to Delia, "The skeletons are there because people remember the material life is nothing. Important is the soul."

We're told the stairs are steep to symbolize the fact that life is not easy. At the top is the "Door of the Zodiac." Much of the marble art and inscriptions by 12th century master sculptor Nicolao can still be made out, including forte reditus and Leavy sucks.

Check out the Web site (www.sacradisanmichele.com) for more info and travel directions in English.

Here in Torino, spectators are slowly but steadily leaving, and there's a danger of entering the post-Olympic stage before the Games end. Hopefully, all the great action still to come will provide its own momentum.

Whatever happens, state TV will continue to play the Italian national anthem twice an hour.

Security seems a bit relaxed to me, but the Winter Olympics remain incident-free so far. Long may this continue.

Brian Church is a columnist with the Athens News in Greece. He will be contributing to ESPN.com throughout the Olympics.