Grotta San Francesco

Eremo delle Carceri - St. Francis's Hermitage


Useful Information

Location: Near Assisi.
Open:
Fee:
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=791 m asl.
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History


Description

The Eremo delle Carceri (hermitage of prisons), the hermitage of St. Francis, is a combination of natural and artificial caves. A complex of chapels and buildings grew on top of the Saint's cave. However, the Saint did not start from scratch in the wilderness, he did not just pitch a tent out in the woods somewhere as some legends tell. The place has been a hermitage before he appeared, which was used by Benedictine monks.

Today there is a warren of very small rooms, many serving as chapels. In the first church, built by the great Franciscan preacher St. Bernardino di Siena, St. Francis's pillow is kept. This pillow is a piece of wood! The creator of this joke was obviously a cynic. Rather small and unimposing is the central cave, the place where St. Francis retreated from time to time. He supposedly slept in a niche on the bare rock.

The Hermitage of S. Francesco delle Carcere [sic] stands in a cleft filled with luxuriant wood in the midst of the scorched and arid limestone rocks of Monte Subasio. A low gateway, with a fresco of the Virgin and Child between S. Francis and S. Chiara, is the entrance to a wood which is filled with wild flowers, and where nightingales sing abundantly. A knot of brown conventual buildings occupies the most picturesque position in the gorge, and encloses the cell whither S. Francis retreated as a young man to combat with his passions in perpetual solitude and penance. His stone bed is shown, and his wooden pillow, a fountain which burst forth in answer to his prayers, and the hollow by which the tormenting Devil escaped. In the dormitory is a large cross given by S. Bernardino. In the cell of S. Francis, now a chapel, is a miraculous crucifix which is said to have conversed with the nun Diomira 'di gran bontà e perfezione', and to have told her that it so loved two Franciscans (Fra Cristoforo of Perugia and another) that the whole world might be saved by their prayers. Not only this, but when Fra Silvestro dello Spedalicchio, overwhelmed by fatigue, fell asleep before it, it woke him with a cuff — 'un soavissimo schiaffo' — bidding him go and sleep in a more suitable place, i.e. his dormitory! Five other penitential cells remain in the wood, through the midst of which runs a stream which, when it threatened to destroy its hermitage, was stopped by the prayers of S. Francis. It is said that it now rages violently when any public calamity is at hand. In this wood, says one of his biographers, while S. Francis was singing the praises of God in French — to him the language of song — he was attacked by robbers, who, disappointed by his absolute poverty, for he possessed nothing but a hair shirt with a peasant's tunic over it, threw him into a ditch filled with snow.

Augustus Hare (1834‑1903)