Risen as a Benedictine hermitage in the VIII century, according to tradition at the behest of the noble Tedaldo di Città di Castello, the Hermitage of Cerbaiolo is one of the Franciscan places par excellence in the Valtiberina and the entire Arezzo area, where both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua lived.
Between 1216 and 1217 the religious complex in the municipality of Pieve Santo Stefano, already abandoned for decades by the monks who had moved elsewhere, was donated to St Francis, who had just returned from his third pilgrimage to Monte Verna. In 1306 Cerbaiolo, until then still owned by the Benedictines, was definitively ceded to the Franciscans in exchange for their building in Badia Tedalda.
The hermitage church was dedicated to the Poverello of Assisi (St Francis of Assisi), but in 1518 changed its title to Santa Maria di Cerbaiolo. Until 1520, the site was part of the Diocese of Città di Castello and with the birth of the Diocese of Sansepolcro it was included in the latter. Since 1986 it has been part of the Diocese of Arezzo, Cortona and Sansepolcro.
The Valtiberian hermitage was inhabited by Franciscans continuously until 1783, when the friars moved to Pieve Santo Stefano. Cerbaiolo thus became a parish dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua.
In 1867 the poet Giosuè Carducci was a guest in the former hermitage. In 1944, being on the Gothic Line, it was mined by the Germans to slow down the advance of the Allies. In 1950 the ruined parts were rebuilt and in 1967 Cerbaiolo was entrusted to a Secular Franciscan Institute. Until 2010, Sister Chiara, a hermit from Ravenna from the Piccola Compagnia di Santa Elisabetta (Little Company of Saint Elizabeth), took care of the hermitage with great love. The nun died in 2010 and after a few years of crisis, thanks to the Fraternity of San Damiamo of Ravenna and the commitment of volunteers, the place became visitable again.
The most characteristic parts of the Franciscan complex are the seventeenth century cloister, the Church of St. Anthony with its eighteenth century portals and Renaissance altars, the refectory and the friars’ cells. The Chapel of St. Anthony, erected in 1716 with its western side resting on bare rock, is the best known building because it keeps protected by an iron grille the cavity that housed and protected the future saint, who fainted after many hours of prayer. According to tradition, around 1230 Saint Anthony finished his “Sermons” commissioned by Pope Gregory IX here.
Cerbaiolo is a fundamental stop on the Via di Francesco (Saint Francis’ Way), an excursion route that links the most significant places in the life of the patron saint of Italy.