14 Feb

A Sanctuary in the Majella: Eramo di San Bartolomeo in Legio

Before I talk about the subject of this post I want to give credit to another blog. I recently read Roccamorice’s Bella Vista Clad Snow Walk on the excellent Life In Abruzzo site and it jogged my memory. As I read about Roccamorice and the Eremo di Santo Spirito I realised that I’d been on a similar trek back in 2008 and never wrote about it. On that occasion I visited the hermitage of San Bartolomeo (Eremo di San Bartolomeo in Legio) and marvelled at this secret hideaway cut deep into the Majella.

Why didn’t I write about it before now?

There are a few reasons but the most important are timing and location.

  1. Timing: I visited the hermitage in May 2008 and I didn’t start this blog until later that year in October. At the time I felt I had a lot to say but I wasn’t that good at saying it. By the time I felt I’d become better at writing about my experiences newer material seemed to get priority.
  2. Location: I forgot how to get to the hermitage! I decided that if I couldn’t give a reasonable idea of where the hermitage is located or how to get there my post would be missing a key element.

I did think about writing a post in which I described everything except its location and then left it up to you to find it. But I thought that would be a bit cruel. :-) Anyway, on with the detail.

On Saturday 31 May 2008 four of us set off from Loreto Aprutino heading in the direction of Roccamorice (PE). All I knew was that we were going to visit a hermitage. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t done any research and the leader of our merry band was having fun by telling us to wait and see. She did suggest that we bring suitable shoes as we’d probably have to walk for at least an hour.

In the car was our leader Monica from Switzerland, her friend Verena (also from Switzerland) and the two of us who felt both lucky and slightly nervous at going on an excursion into the unknown with newly found friends.

Monica dislikes motorways and as far as I know will only use them if it’s absolutely necessary. She believes you cannot see a country properly from a motorway. After passing through Pianella, and Cepagatti and close to Rosciano and Scafa we headed on to a parking spot a little outside Roccamorice.

That’s when the fun began!

I was like a child in a sweet shop. I had owned my camera for a while but I’d recently read about how to use it more creatively. Phrases going through my head were “expose for light”, “shallow depth of field” and possibly the most important of all “wait for the moment”. Monica told us the hermitage was about an hour away so that meant I had an hour to pick some visual treats on our little trek.

As you can see the Abruzzo countryside has no shortage of flowers, insects and scenery to thrill the amateur photographer. Add to that the changing light and the cloud formations and I was simply grinning from ear to ear. And we still hadn’t reached the hermitage.

Fortunately for me I wasn’t the cause of too many delays on our walk as the group were happy to stop regularly to identify flowers and just take in our surroundings. It was all quite breathtaking.

But we finally arrived at the Eremo di San Bartolomeo in Legio and what a surprise it was. The entrance to a tiny chapel appeared on a rocky ledge that acted like a balcony under an overhanging ridge. What possessed hermits to build this sanctuary and spend their lives here? The structure is impressive but so is the determination necessary to turn this rocky ridge into both a living space and a place of devotion.

As you approach the small church and when you are inside it’s hard to picture how it fits in with its surroundings. But if you follow the steps down to the rocky valley floor below and look back up you get a chance to see the entire structure and how it blends into the rock. Simply amazing.

Looking at the photos and thinking about that visit more than two years ago I tried to remember how I felt while I was at the hermitage. We were lucky that nobody but us four were there so we could walk around and explore at our leisure. We slowly walked into the small church and then on to the back room. Returning to the entrance and looking back at the rocky balcony was truly inspiring. Then, as each of us found our personal spot to sit, gather our thoughts and just be, the overwhelming feeling was one of peace.

I felt a connection with human endeavour, spirituality and nature that I think I’ve only felt in Glendalough, County Wicklow a monastic settlement founded in the 6th century that is little closer to my base in Ireland. I think the absence of other visitors and the ability to explore the rocky floor below and look back up and marvel at the hermitage were key to the strong impression it left on me. How did I neglect to write about it until now?

The hermitage is linked with Celestine V (Pietro Angeleri aka Pietro da Morrone) a hermit who was elected pope in 1294. Celestine wasn’t comfortable with the power the papacy bestowed on him and abdicated in favour of a hermit’s life. But he was arrested by his successor Pope Boniface VIII and died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

But what of San Bartolomeo? He was one of the twelve apostles and is credited bringing Christianity to Armenia where he was martyred. His death wasn’t very pleasant (not that any is) as accounts say he was either beheaded, flayed alive or crucified. On 25 August each year in Roccamorice there is a festival in his honour.

How do you get there (perhaps the bit you’ve been waiting for)?

This is where I cheat a little but I hope you don’t mind too much. I remember we parked outside of Roccamorice and followed trails that were marked by signs for San Bartolomeo and also with metal crosses. I remember the walk took about an hour, including stops for photos and plant identification. But I can’t remember exactly where we parked and where we joined the trails. So below I’ve added directions as described from other sources to help you find it.

Please, please, please if anybody has a definitive set of instructions send them on or send me a link to them.

From the booklet Abruzzo: The Guide to its Unknown Wonders (A publication by Abruzzo Promozione Turismo)

The starting point for the visit to the monasteries is Roccamorice (520 m), which maintains some ancient traces in the upper part of the village. Follow the road towards La Majelletta for about three kilometres and then turn off it to the right, going downhill along another asphalt road. After a few metres, next to a sheepfold, the pathway leading to San Bartolomeo di Legio begins. Follow the path downhill on foot, bearing to the left when it comes close to the valley. After a flat stretch, you can reach the monastery by means of a flight of steps going through a hole in the rock…the walk to San Bartolomeo takes one hour there and back.

From The Majella, Abruzzo sacred mountain

Leaving Roccamorice, follow the road towards the Maielletta for about 3 km then, at a junction near a “stazzo” (wide enclosed area where sheep used to be kept) and a recently built shelter, turn left down a wide path which will lead you to the Vallone di San Bartolomeo. After a flat section of the path, sided by small iron crosses, there is a steep flight of steps up to the hermitage. Return is back through the same way. The whole walk will take about an hour altogether.

From Eremi Della Maiella

Da Roccamorice si seguono le indicazioni per S. Spirito e, in prossimità di Case Pagliaia, si lascia la strada asfaltata per prendere a destra la sterrata per S. Bartolomeo. Si percorre la tranquilla ma sconnessa pista che si sviluppa tra boschi e campi coltivati superando il Fosso Rusci e poi continuando in salita. Lungo questo tratto si deve porre attenzione a destra per individuare le frecce indicatrici per l’Eremo di San Bartolomeo. Trascurata la prima freccia, poco sopra si arriva alla seconda e qui si parcheggia l’auto. A piedi si percorre la larga traccia che, in breve, porta ad una croce in ferro affacciata sull’orlo del dirupato Vallone di S. Bartolomeo. Qui si va a sinistra, in discesa, perdendo quota su una scalinata che, nel tratto conclusivo, percorre un tunnel scavato nella roccia giungendo all’eccezionale Eremo di S. Bartolomeo, spaventosamente proteso verso la dirupata vallata.

From The hermitage of San Bartolomeo

From the town, Roccamorice, follow the indications for the hermitage of Santo Spirito, but after 4 km, stop, which is after about 10 meters after the junction leading to Passo Lanciano (indications on the right for the hermitage of S. Bartolomeo. You practically park your car immediately and on foot go onto a mule track (route indicated by the park). After a few minutes of walking you reach a path (this, too, sign posted and well-visible) to the left, which breaks off from the mule track: you follow it, and shortly after you are looking over the canyon where you will find the hermitage. With the canyon in front of you, take the path to the left; the hermitage is reachable in a total of about 20 minutes.

If I remember correctly the walk included no more than a 100m climb, not too tough really and well worth it.

a little bit about 

Noel is an IT Consultant, software development Project Manager, photographer, writer, and English teacher. These days he swaps his time between Abruzzo, Italy and Dublin, Ireland.

You can see more of Noel's photographs on
Noel McCarthy Photography

Many of these images are available to buy on 500px Art at
http://www.500pxart.com/noelmccarthy