THE HERMITAGE OF SAINT FRANCIS
In the V century a community of hermits fleeing Syria settled here. Although sources are unclear, there could be some truth to the legend according to which in 1218 Francis received the small chapel of St Catherine, the oldest part of the present-day hermitage, from the Benedictine monks.
The old oratory of Saint Francis is inside the convent and the rock that holds up the stone altar seems to have been used by the ‘poor man of Assisi' as a headrest.
The well of Saint Francis, located in the courtyard, is the centre of the hermitage. Tradition has it that, to fill it with water, the saint told his followers to dig at the highest point and, much to the surprise of his doubting companions – who thought it a wrong spot – water began to rise in the well.
Inside the cloister area is the chapel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, or the Porziuncola of Monteluco. It's an ancient hermitage that had been dedicated to this eastern saint and the VI century Syrian roots of the hermetic movement for many centuries and one marked the beginning of the Franciscan hermitage.
To the left in the small courtyard is the chapel of Saint Bernardino, built ten years after the saint's death, and transformed various times over the centuries.
In the 1950s, what was once a room where wood for the fire was stored became the Oratory of Saint Anthony of Padua to give the parish faithful more space during pastoral functions. In 1994 it was entirely renovated.
The tiny Church of Saints Francis of Assis and Catherine of Alexandria is home to several important works of art: the chapel to the right is dedicated to the Blessed Leopoldo da Gaiche, depicted in the altar painting done by Giuseppe Moscatelli and his body lies in the transparent coffin under the altar.
The main altar boasts a Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine, Francis, Anthony of Padua, and Joseph painted by Lazzaro Baldi. High up, to the side, a Madonna delle Grazie, a XVII century work by Carlo Dolci, and a Decapitation of Saint Catherine, a copy done by Ercole Gennari dal Guercino. The altar and the precious engraved wooden tabernacle are works of friar Bernardino di Collelungo and date to the late XVII century, the same period as the walnut closets to the side of the altar built at the behest of wealthy Spoletino Francesco Martorelli. They contain a collection of Murano glass and relics donated by the Barberini and Cibo families. There is a small walnut choir in the apse.
One can still see the old cells of the monks at the sanctuary. The seven little cells are what remain of the old dormitory and are those, they say, built by Saint Francis and his companions. The poor materials they used and their small size bear powerful witness to a more heartfelt, yet stricter, meaning of Franciscan poverty.