Eremo delle Carceri
The Eremo delle Carceri is a small hermitage in a steep forest gorge at the Monte Subasio, in Umbria, in middle Italy, four kilometers above Assisi, the steps and bows of which arch over a quatrefoil-shaped hole in the smooth pink stone: the so-called "Devil Hole", a grotto. The word Carceri is from the Latin 'carceres' and means "isolated places" (as well as "prisons").
In the 13th century, Saint Francis of Assisi returned here during his life to pray and contemplate as did other hermits before him. When he first came in 1205, the only building here was a tiny 12th-century oratory. Soon, other men followed him to the mountain, finding their own isolated caves nearby in which to pray. The oratory became known as Santa Maria delle Carceri after the small "prisons" occupied by friars in the area.
The site and the oratory was probably given by the Benedictines to St. Francis in 1215, at the same time they gave him the Porziuncola in the valley below. Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray.
At a stone bridge the oak still exists, in the branches of which birds were living, whom S.Francis had preached to, as the legend tells.
Around 1400, Saint Bernardino of Siena built a small friary, which includes a little choir with wood stalls of c.1400 and a simple refectory with the original tables from c.1400 still to be seen. St. Bernardine also built a small church called Santa Maria delle Carceri (differs from a church of the same name at Prato), today with an altarpiece fresco of the Virgin and Child, which extended the earlier chapel.
In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis' cave and the original oratory, forming the sizeable complex that exists today. Today some Franciscan monks live there and visitors are welcome.
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