Arguably one of Central Italy’s most spectacular hermitages, San Giovanni all’Orfento is located in a cliff above the wild and protected Orfento Valley, one of the nature reserves within the Majella National Park in Abruzzo.
Peter of Morrone, the famous Pope Celestine V (who, as a former hermit, resigned from his position only to be later imprisoned by his successor Boniface VIII), is said to have retired here between 1284 and 1293. His goal was to seek solitude in an inaccessible place with his most loyal followers.
The two-room hermitage was constructed in the rocky outcrop and below it, stood a small church and rooms for hermits and pilgrims.
To access the hermitage, a staircase and a walkway were hewn into the cliff, but Celestine chose to keep disturbances to a minimum. An overhanging ledge interrupts the walkway and forces visitors to crawl and wriggle across a distance of three meters, and directly above a perilous drop below.
Patience and faith are required to cross this obstacle and once the ledge is left behind, the interior of the hermitage becomes suddenly visible. Inside is filled with elaborate water-harvesting channels and cisterns, altars, and niches. Postholes in the rock suggest that a removable wooden walkway stood here originally.
Little is known about the history of the hermitage, as it was most likely abandoned centuries ago. However, its location and mysteriousness are worth the strenuous hike.
Know Before You Go
Trails lead to San Giovanni all'Orfento from the village of Decontra, the Valley of the Orfento River (you need to register at the office in Caramanico Terme), and from Rifugio Pomilio.
Although it's not currently forbidden, accessing the hermitage is extremely dangerous due to the height and the remoteness of the site.