A winding trail in Italy’s Aurunci Mountains leads to a in a cave just under the Redentore peak, located at 1,160 meters (3,800 feet) above sea level. Inside the cave is Eremo di San Michele Arcangelo, beautiful hermitage that dates back to the ninth century.
The Aurunci Mountains are dry and bare on the side that faces the Mediterranean. On a clear day, when they are not covered in mist, one can see the Pontine Islands and the Island of Ischia from their peaks.
Over time, erosion caused by the water that is abundant in this area because of the karstic geology of the mountains, damaged the original hermitage. The hermitage was rebuilt in 1893 in its present Neo-Gothic style. The façade faces the west is crowned by a rose window, which provides light for the dark interior. At the end of the cave, a small niche in the rocks holds the statue of Saint Michael the Archangel. The dates of 830 and 1895 are carved on the portal.
According to local lore, the statue of the saint, initially worshiped elsewhere, decided to move to the cave on the Aurunci Mountains. Every time the statue would be returned to its original location, it would then end up returning to the present site, perhaps, according to the story, because it had no interest in protecting impious and blasphemous seafarers.
Two processions are held each year: one on the last Sunday of June and another on September 29, the feast of Saint Michael. In the former date, the inhabitants of Maranola carry the statue to the top of the mountain to ask Saint Michael to protect their flocks. In September, the statue is brought back down to the the church of the Annunziata.
Know Before You Go
To hike to the hermitage, you can park your car by the Rifugio Pornito, above the town of Maranola. You can then hike the seven-kilometer long trail (about an hour and a half) to the hermitage. Just above the hermitage is the peak of the Redentore (1,252 meters above sea level), crowned by the bronze statue of the Redeemer.