By nature, I am not a particularly religious person, but I do have a fascination with the Madonna del Ghisallo, who in the Catholic faith has been named the patron saint of cyclists. Medieval legend has it that the Count Ghisallo was traveling near the village of Magréglio, near Lake Como in Italy, when he was attacked by bandits. He claimed the Virgin Mary appeared at a nearby shrine and saved him from his attackers. The apparition became known as La Madonna del Ghisallo, and she became a patroness of local travelers. Eventually, a chapel dedicated to her was built atop a hill named in her honor in Magréglio.

The Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo. Photo by Marco Bonavoglia, under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the late 1940s, the chapel became a favorite and natural place for cyclists to stop and rest after climbing the hill. In 1949, Father Ermelindo Vigano, who was the local priest, proposed that the Madonna del Ghisallo be named the patron saint of cyclists, which was later confirmed by Pope Pius XII. The chapel, known as the Santuario Madonna del Ghisallo has become a shrine to cycling with bikes and jerseys belonging to many champions adorning the walls. A museum, the Museo del Ciclismo has been built nearby to house additional offerings that have been made to the church.

Madonna del Ghisallo patron saint medal, along with crucifix. Photo by Steven L. Sheffield.

I’ve never been to Italy, much less to the Santuario, but I do hope to go before I die. Call it a pilgrimage, or call it just a dream bicycle tour; it’s a place that calls to me, and I feel that I must answer.

Within the church and on the grounds are several plaques inscribed with prayers. I don’t entirely know why, but I find these prayers to be comforting, and will sometimes say one before going out for a ride. I wear a chain around my neck with a Madonna del Ghisallo patron saint medal. The chain has been broken and replaced many times, but thus far I have never lost the medal when this happened. Perhaps it’s just good fortune, but perhaps the Madonna is telling me that she’s not leaving me, that she’ll continue to protect me.

It’s weird and not very logical, I know … but it makes me feel better, especially when I despair on the bike. Of the various prayers that I’ve found, this is the one that speaks to me the most.

The Ghisallo Prayer

O Madre del Signore Gesù, Ti preghiamo di volerci benignamente assistere e proteggere nelle nostre attività ciclistiche.

Ti domandiamo di conservarci forti e sani nel corpo, puri e ferventi nell’anima e di tenerci lontani dai pericoli sia negli allenamenti che nelle corse.

Ti chiediamo de fare della bicicletta un strumento de fratellanza e di amicizia, che possa servire per elevarci sempre di più a Dio.

Ti preghiamo per i nostri cari amici che, strappati alla nostra compagnia, hai voluto con Te nel Regno del Tuo Figlio: dona loro la gioia della Tua beatitudine, e concedi ai loro familiari di accettare con fede e rassegnazione questa durissima prova.


O Mother of the Lord Jesus, We pray that you kindly assist and protect us in our cycling activities.

We ask that you keep us strong and healthy in body, pure and fervent in spirit and keep us away from dangers both in training and in races.

We ask that you make the bicycle a tool of brotherhood and friendship, which may serve to elevate us ever closer to God.

We pray for our dear friends who, torn from our company, you wanted with You in the Kingdom of your Son: he gives them the joy of Thy bliss, and allows their families to accept this ordeal with faith and resignation.