Walking in Tuscany: Lecceto, the Hermitage– Glorious April and May have gone by and June has just begun. After almost 2 months of isolation I MISS MY FRIENDS! We are finally able to meet again, so I decided it was time to get lost in the woods… Hooray!
The meeting point was a full immersion in nature. It was almost emotional to see each other again after such a long time! We all immediately started laughing and chatting, we had so much to catch up on. We tried to follow the white-red path signs, but every flower and every bush seemed new and incredibly interesting. Those rare instances when we managed to be quiet, the wood echoed its spring silence with birds’ songs and bees buzzing everywhere.
A piedi in the woods
The path we were following, whatever the destination, was broken and quite difficult. We came across an unexpected animal, a big turtle, which was moving away from the path with no particular hurry. We reached a cross-road soon after, and the broken path continued into the thick wood, until finally, a larger path begun. We chose the easier way, leaving the dense wood behind and it became easier to chat and laugh now that we weren’t struggling across the bumps in the road.
We were enjoying each other’s company very much. Almost suddenly, the trees became less and less dense and the light grew. On our left a large field opened where we saw several horses. I don’t know why, but I realised in that moment our exact location: ” Ragazzi qui siamo vicini all’Eremo di Lecceto. ” (Guys, we are close to the Lecceto Hermitage.)
Eremo di Lecceto, its history
When they asked me information regarding the place, I immediately set off answering their questions and summarizing the history behind this fascinating location.
“We can start when Diocletian was emperor of the Roman Empire and his persecution of Christians was fierce. During this time, a young convert journeyed from Rome to Siena, his name was Ansano. Ansano was very successful with his preaching and several people were baptized by him. U nfortunately, he was discovered, arrested and executed. His followers ran from Siena to take refuge into the nearby woods of Monte Maggio. The area was known by the name of Foltigliano, later on renamed Lecceto due the presence of lecci (holm-oaks). The place was rich in natural caves used by refugees as shelter. From then on, hermits lived there for centuries and little by little increased in number until a real community was formed.
It’s a real pity that the old archive was destroyed by the Florentines in the 16th century, because the more detailed ancient history of this holy settlement has been lost. But according to some ancient chronicles the hermitage was already present in the 10th century, while the first church was consecrated by the Bishop of Siena in 1227.
At that time, there was a monastery and it appears that the caves in the woods continued to be used for periods of intense penitence. Being a very secluded place, the monks built a wall all around the church and other buildings, as protection from bandits populating the forest. The Hermitage was called in 1400, Eremo di Lecceto .
The sound of silence
I hadn’t yet finished the history of this holy settlement, but we were in front of a lane leading to the Hermitage, so I had to stop.
The lane ended in a large yard in front of the entrance arch. From there, we saw a part of the encircling wall and the church bell tower. Inside we were surrounded by a silence very different from that of the wood.
On the right, we saw a simple church with a large round window and an elegant front porch. In the deep silence a sound reached our ears…it was a song, it was coming from the church. The nuns (who have lived here since 1972) come regularly in church for Vespers and they were singing.
We remained there in silence enchanted by those gentle voices singing joyfully to God.
A fortified church
In front of us, a large door opened and we went inside to investigate. We saw an elegant renaissance cloister, but the first thing that met the eye was the tower. This isn’t a bell tower but it’s a real defensive structure. It is most unusual to see a tower like this in a monastery. It’s massive, rising for more than 30 metres over the cloister. It was built in 1408 using money donated by a member of the Salimbeni family .
Even though it seems an unorthodox structure, we have to consider that those were different times. The dense wood of Lecceto was surely populated by outlaws and this Hermitage was equipped to defend itself with an encircling wall and a strong tower.
I imagine it like a safe island in a turbulent ocean of trees. It’s true that the Marquee of Marignano (Gian-Giacomo dei Medici) tried to overcome the monastery with a group of Spanish and Austrian soldiers in March 1554. However, he failed due to the strong defense. A month later, the same Marquee won the place and burned down both the church and the archive. It was the same year in which the Republic of Siena lost its freedom becoming Medici’s territory.
Silence as a cure
This Eremo-Hermitage has seen centuries of history passing by, but it is still here, while the Marquee of Marignano is nothing more than a faded memory. The solitude of the place is absolute, I love it.
How funny…I imagined escaping from the long quarantine isolation by making noise, chatting and laughing. I could not image that silence was the cure. In this small island surrounded by trees I finally feel like nothing can really hurt me. I am at peace with myself and all the world around.