Sacred Hermitage of Camaldoli: charm amidst thousand-year-old forests
The Foreste Casentinesi are a magical place, dating back millennia, in which you can sample a piece of the ancient world, where men and nature seem to bear the signs of a past that still pulsates. The forests were developed along part of the Tuscany-Romagna Apennine mountains, straddling the provinces of Arezzo, Florence and Forlì-Cesena. As you walk through them, even on a short hike, you may only see the sun rarely, through a thick mantle of branches and leaves, and you will roam around large parts of terrain blanketed in lush green.
The forests are worth an extended visit in and of themselves, but in the Casentino area you can also find castles, Romanesque parish churches, ancient villages and some of the most fascinating Italian monasteries.
Among these, surrounded by a forest of white pine trees, having stood for thousands of years and revealing itself in its quiet essentiality, you will find in Sacred Hermitage of Camaldoli, with its associated monastery just 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles) away.
Saint Romuald of Ravenna founded it in 1012, when he arrived in these majestic woods after having lived a rather dissolute life. He then repented and began to reform a considerable number of convents and monasteries.
The heart of this system is the first five cells where Romuald and his brothers went to follow the rules of the order: fasting, silence, and remaining in the cell.
Over time, another fifteen cells were added, extending over five rows. It was an interesting choice to convert a previous structure, not far from the cells, three hundred meters in the direction of the valley, to turn into the monastery.
Hence, two centers were founded that made up a single spiritual concept. The hermit was the vanguard with regard to God, while the monastery was a place to welcome travellers and where the hermits could take part in community life.
Only one of the hermitage cells can be visited, the one that, according to legend, belonged to Saint Romuald. They have a “snail” structure, designed to protect the monks from harsh weather, in which the bedroom was in the center, surrounded by the portico, vestibule, study, oratory, woodshed and bath. Outside there was a small vegetable garden and a window, through which the monk received his meals. The logic of the system was to support the needs of study, work and prayer that was the basis of the hermit’s life.
A church is now located among the cells, at the site of the old oratory. It has been modified many times, and took on its final Baroque style toward the end of the 1600s.
The internal cloisters are the oldest and most intimate part of the monastery, which was also reworked several times over the years. The church was embellished by seven tables created by Giorgio Vasari. The pharmacy is also remarkable, dating back to 1046 and is proof that there was a small hospital where the monks healed the sick from the neighboring areas.
It started out as a laboratory for plants and herbs, in which they were prepared and processed. Its shelves present several instruments that were used, such as alembics, mortars, and small stoves, as well as medieval books and manuals. The shelves are of carved walnut, of precious craftsmanship, and were made in the mid-1500s. Upon entering, you will be struck by an array of scents that will enchant you. This enchantment will accompany your senses if you decided to visit these sites, where nature, the ancient handiwork of men and the mystery that lies between science and religion are combined.