Surely one of the most stunning locations for a Franciscan monastery, Le Celle Hermitage is very close to Cortona in Tuscany. An impressive place of silence and mysticism, where the river’s voice is the only thing to break the silence. It’s probably one of the best places in the region in which to appreciate the devout and meditative spirit of San Francesco.
Its location is very much a part of its magic. Set on a wooded mountainside, next to a gentle waterfall, the monastery feels very much part of the surrounding nature. Its simple stone buildings with their tiny windows seem to cling to the mountain slope, and create a bucolic, if slightly surreal setting, that few visitors remain unaffected by.
Saint Francis and the Hermitage Le Celle:
St. Francis came to Cortona to preach in 1211, and here at the foot of Mount Sant’Egidio found the solitude he was looking for. A young nobleman who went on to become the Blessed Guido, one of his first followers, offered him the place as a prayer retreat. From that moment St. Francis and his followers stayed in this isolated spot on the way to and from Assisi and other places where they were preaching.
There was no hermitage in St. Francis’s time however, and the saint slept on the bare rock. After his death in 1226, the first stone “cells” were built and a small oratory. What we see today is the result of the XVI century construction work. Le Celle stood abandoned until 1537, when it was granted by the Bishop of Cortona to the recently founded Third Order of Franciscans, known as the Capuchins. The hermitage was considerably enlarged by the Capuchins, who in 1634 erected a new chapel to take the place of a more ancient one. This new chapel was consecrated to St Anthony of Padua and reflects the Capuchins simple, unpretentious architectural and decorative style.
People come here to pray and to immerse themselves in the spirit of the place, where silence and peace reign. Some of the rooms can be visited and there’s access to the path that leads into the wood.