Hermitage of Montecasale

Along an ancient road that led from Sansepolcro to the Alpe della Luna and the forests of the Tuscan-Marchigiano Apennines, around 1192 the Camaldolese monks built the Hermitage of Montecasale, equipped with a hospital for the sick and pilgrims, on the remains of a dismantled fortress. In 1213, the bishop of Città di Castello, with jurisdiction over the site, ceded it to St. Francis of Assisi and from then on it became one of the reference Franciscan sites in the Valtiberina.

In 1268, the Friars Minor moved elsewhere and were replaced by a fraternity of regular tertiaries. Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a much-felt cult developed in Montecasale for a wooden statue from the early thirteenth century of the “Madonna and Child”, brought, according to tradition, by Saint Francis. The church was thus dedicated to St Mary.

In 1462, the hermitage was assigned to the hermit congregation of the Hieronymites and since 1537, with the place having become part of the new Diocese of Sansepolcro a few years earlier, to the Friars Minor Capuchin, one of the three main orders that make up the Franciscan family.

With the Napoleonic suppressions of 1810, Montecasale was put up for auction. In 1830, the Capuchins returned, but in 1866 there was a second suppression, that of the House of Savoy. The complex was bought by the Florentine nobleman Giuseppe del Rosso, who in 1894 ceded it free of charge to the friars, who are still guardians of the hermitage today.

The Hermitage of Montecasale retains the layout of the oldest Franciscan monasteries, inspired by simplicity and poverty, with the central cloister and the various buildings related to religious functions. Visitors can see the friars’ cells, the church enlarged between the XV and XVI centuries with its thirteenth-century Marian statue, and the oratory built in place of St Francis’ cell, with three reliquaries and the rock that was once the poor man of Assisi’s bed. The latter is the mystical heart of the hermitage.

In the surroundings of Montecasale, it is worth visiting the Fonte di San Francesco (St Francis’ Spring), where the saint made water gush out, the Fonte Grappa l’Orso (Bear Spring) in the middle of the forest, to which many legends are referred, and the Sasso Spicco (Spiky Rock), a gigantic hanging boulder that can be reached through a winding path.

Montecasale was a place much loved by the patron saint of Italy. The most famous episode that linked him to the place was the conversion of three thieves, who later took vows and died in the hermitage. The skull of two redeemed criminals is preserved in the oratory.

The hermitage is one of the most important stops on the Via di Francesco (St Francis Way).