l’Eremo di Santa Maria Giacobbe

July 31, 2013 / Places
Pale, Umbria

When you run your eyes along Umbria’s mountain slopes, you will more often than not come across a stone building plunked into the midst of what seems like impregnable woods or perched precariously on rocky cliffs. From monasteries to hermitages to tiny shepherd huts, these buildings are testament to thousands of years of human settlements on this region’s rugged peaks.

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I had assumed that these distant buildings were long abandoned, but have come to realize that many are still used. The tiny hermitage of Santa Maria Giacobbe perched on Mount Pale above Foligno is a perfect example.

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I often caught glimpses of this creche-like jumble of rooftops and church belfry from the highway that runs through the Menotre Valley below, but took it to be a ghost hamlet. A recent hike from the village of Pale up the trail to the hermitage proved me wrong. Dedicated to Mary of Clopas, a enigmatic Biblical figure and one of the three “Marys” said to be present at the Crucifixion, who, legend holds, lived out her life as a hermit here, the hermitage has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries and remains a site with deep religious significance.

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The trail up the mountainside, lined with the Stations of the Cross as a reminder to hikers of its spiritual history, has an indentation in the stone steps said to have been made by the shoe of the Saint, and a handhold along the rock wall, said to have been made by Mary’s fingertips. I’m not sure if I believe those legends, but I put my heel and hand in both spots—considered lucky—just to be safe.

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The hermitage, nestled in the rock cliff overlooking the valley below, contains a tiny chapel, hewn directly into the rock and covered in frescoes from the Sienese and Umbrian school dating between the 13th and 17th centuries, the hermit’s quarters (no one lives here now, but the hermitage was inhabited until the 1960s), a cistern (the water is said to have healing powers), and a collection of poignant ex votos.

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The hermitage can only be reached by foot, but that doesn’t stop the locals who continue to visit this peaceful chapel on their own or during the two annual processions. Just one more example of the unbroken chain of history linking Umbria’s first settlers and their contemporary descendants.

Rebecca Winke

by Rebecca Winke

Owner of Brigolante Apartments, a restored 16th century stone farmhouse / guesthouse in the heart of Umbria near Assisi, and blogger of life in Umbria. For tips and insider information about visiting Umbria, download her Umbria Slow App and see her writings on her personal website!

6 Responses to “l’Eremo di Santa Maria Giacobbe”

  1. Joseph Spano

    A wonderful note, it is also thought by professors of Holocaust history that the people of the town of Pale helped the fleeing Jews in an underground railway of sorts helping them along the east path to the southern parts of Italy. Assisi is often mentioned but credit id to be given to those noble people of Pale

  2. Ginny Siggia

    The frescoes are amazing, and in relatively good condition! I adore places like this, the more remote the better (but accessible safely, of course!). Bravo to the people of Pale (and all Italians) who helped protect, hide, and guide the Jews during the Holocaust. What a fantastic story!

  3. Anne Robichaud

    Rebe’, enjoyed your good note on a wondrous spot – was at a very small family wedding there over 20 yrs ago – a most magical day in an extraordinary place

  4. What an incredible place. Thank you for bringing it to those of us who most probably won’t be making that hike up the mountain side. How lovely to be able to have these spots brought to us. Thank you.

  5. Thanks so much I am an Italian American so interested this is my passion Italian art of many kinds and Copodimonti my 1st love! Only because I started a collection long ago..Thank You for this sharing! Always praying and praying to go visit you myself….

  6. Thanx for posting this Rebecca. Didn’t get too close to the front door, back in 2004 — let alone inside to see the frescoes; been on my list ever since then!


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