Friday, August 11, 2017

Peaceful Eramo le Celle


I had read about this heavenly place in Tripadvisor, and knew I had to see it one day.  On our trip to Italy last fall, we left Cortona after having a wonderful lunch, and decided to look for the famed and hard-to-find Bramasole, home of Frances Mayes, author of the international bestselling book, "Under the Tuscan Sun".  If you missed that story, you can read about it here.
The wooden sign translates to "Ancient road to the shrine. Grand Duke Bridge (1782)".  Driving on a narrow, two-lane road, we had already taken a wrong turn, like many tourists before us.  After the first wrong turn, we barely missed the entrance to Le Celle.  I cannot even begin to express how excited I felt.  I read so much about and Google-Imaged photos of this place before leaving San Diego. How I forgot to add this site to our travel itinerary astounds me to no end. Thank God for wooden signs along the road!
The road to the parking lot was short, and at the end of the lot was a shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary.  It began to rain lightly, but that was fine with me.  It felt refreshing, and so perfect for this place, as if the rain was rinsing away my sins and renewing my soul.  This ground is truly sacred and a must-see place for fans of St. Francis and for others on a holy pilgrimage.  
Gerry and I were on this trip with high school friends, married couple Ed and Daisy.  As I developed our itinerary weeks before our planned departure from San Diego, they were happy to see whatever I wanted to see in Italy.  They just wanted to follow along, and were confident I would give them an adventure to remember.  I think I did that, except for the fact that I awoke seriously ill with the stomach flu on Day 4 of the trip.  For three days, I slept, puked or was in the bathroom.  The photo above was taken on our 8th day in Italy.  We will have just one more full day in Tuscany, then it's back on the plane to San Diego.  While I lay sick in bed all day long into the evening, Gerry, Ed and Daisy toured Florence and Assisi.  I'd toured these cities on a previous trip, so I didn't feel bad about staying in the hotel room.  I was too ill to care.
Anyway, back to the Hermitage, or Eremo de Celle.  A very prominent sign reminded us, in Italian, that this is a sacred place founded by Francis of Assisi and a few of his followers. It is a place for solitude, contemplation and communion with His heavenly father.  The sign continues to say "open up your soul, to see and feel as St. Francis did," or something like that.
This Franciscan hermitage is hidden in dense woodland almost 2 miles north of Cortona. Its buildings sit next to a picturesque stream with an 18th-century stone bridge, and the only sounds to disturb the tranquil atmosphere are the bells that call the resident friars to vespers and mass in the cave-like Chiesa Cella di San Francesco, or Church of San Francis.
The terrace garden was absolutely beautiful, and the woodland birdsong was definitely music to my ears. I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  This morning I found an 11-hour recording of tranquil birdsong on YouTube.  It is playing as I type.  The sounds keep me calm and so focused!  A little aromatherapy helps, too.  I'm using Nature's Truth called - are you ready? - Focus.  Whatever it takes!
The rustic stone buildings nestle in terraces on a mountain-side with a Holly Oak and cypress grove. The main convent is accessed through a stone pedestrian bridge spanning a small spring stream. 
This chapel replaced an ancient one built in 1634 by the Capuchins.  It reflects the simple, unpretentious architectural and decorative style of the Capuchins.  Unadorned by works of art, the chapel still has wooden altars.  The Capuchins are an order of friars within the Catholic Church, an offshoot of the Franciscans.  You can't miss a Capuchin.  They wear the long brown robes tied with rope around their waist.  Some sport the round bald spots on the top of their heads.  Most wear sandals.  I found interesting information on the Capuchins.  You can find it here.
Photo Credit:  Judy from Blogging in Italy
When Francis of Assissi arrived at Le Celle with his followers, he occupied the cell behind the altar of the chapel.  This is where he lived.

A statue of St. Francis in the chapel of the Franciscan convent Le Celle.
The stoned switchbacks take you from the bridge at the top to the lower gardens where you can access another bridge to go into the woods, or to enter other ancient buildings.

From the stone bridge, you can see the creek and outlying buildings of Le Celle.  We heard beautiful voices singing from the woods above Le Celle.  The singing continued during our visit. Was there another convent up there?  Or was it a day's retreat for reflection and singing hymns?

This place reminded me of Rivendell, where the gorgeous Silvan Elves lived in the film "Fellowship of the Ring".  Does anyone see what I mean?  I think if the water were flowing over those rocks, you'd get it.  Oh, and don't forget the chirping birds!
We didn't stay very long here.  We still had to find Bramasole, then drive to Castiglione Fiorentino where we would spend a couple of days at a villa.  As we walked back to our car, I looked back and decided that I will come back for another visit.  I want to walk further into the woods, walk further up into the hills and explore Le Celle and everything it has to offer.



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