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Carceri Hermitage retains tranquil, contemplative air loved by St. Francis

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 4th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Eremo delle Carceri, or the Carceri Hermitage is located in along slope of Monte Subasio outside the walls of Assisi. The hermitage is best known as where St. Francis and his followers established their first home. The saint often returned here from his travels in order to pray and contemplate.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Francis first began coming to the beautiful forest in 1205. The only building there at the time was a tiny 12th-century oratory. Living in a cave, Saint Francis prayed fervently and did penance. Other men soon followed him to the mountain, finding their own caves in which to pray. Francis dedicated himself to a life of servitude and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray.

Various buildings were added around St. Francis' cave and the original oratory, forming the sizeable complex that exists today. The hermitage today is still occupied by Franciscan friars, who give guided tours to visitors.

The church and monastery are in a forest environment that retains the tranquil air beloved by St. Francis. The Eremo is worth visiting to for its medieval architecture and art and several sites associated with episodes in the life of the saint.

Visitors follow a wonderfully convoluted circuit that involves ducking through tiny medieval doorways and squeezing down narrow stone stairways.

An entrance gate and short tunnel leads into an open courtyard with a well that is said to have yielded water after a prayer of St. Francis. A round door marked Santuario at the end of the courtyard leads into a small 15th-century oratory built by St. Bernardine of Siena.

Visitors pass the older and more rustic Cappella della Madonna, with an altarpiece fresco of the Virgin and Child. A short, narrow stairway leads down to the Grotto of St. Francis, where the saint prayed and slept on a stone bed while on retreat toward the end of his life.

Around a corner, visitors enter a small porch. Outside the door, visitors look down at a quatrefoil-shaped hole in the smooth pink stone, called the "Devil Hole," which looks into the not-very-deep crevasse into which St. Francis is said to have tossed a troublesome demon that tempted Brother Rufino. Many visitors throw coins into the hole.

There are also some charming modern bronze statues of St. Francis and his followers. Francis lies on the ground, his hands behind his head and his sandals off, gazing at the sky, as two friars look hard at the constellations and record them on the ground.

The Eremo receives quite a few visitors, but the cramped quarters inside do not allow for much serious contemplation. Crowds are far less than at the Basilica of St. Francis and a modern chapel near the entrance is set aside for prayer and quiet reflection.

The hermitage also makes a good starting point for longer walks into the surrounding woods.

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