The Hermitage of Rosia

Eremo di Santa Lucia near Rosia, Siena



Hermitage Rosia

Villa Celsa

Monastery Lecceto

Castle Spannocchia

All that exists today at Rosia are the ruins of the ancient Augustinian hermitage dedicated to Santa Lucia.

Approximately eighteen miles southwest of Sienna, some twenty-five miles from San Gimignano and not too distant from Lecceto, along the road leading southwest to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, there is an ancient, single-arched Roman bridge (the Ponte della Pia) on the left, so named because it was used by the noble lady, Pia de Tolomei, when she was sent away from Sienna - and later killed - by her husband, Nello Pannocchieschi, as narrated by Dante in the Purgatorio. Here, a visit to the hermitage of Santa Lucia begins. Crossing the bridge over the Rosia river and following the remains of a cobblestone, Roman road, one passes through the woods to the ruins of this old, mediaeval Augustinian site. During the Middle Ages this road was a spur off the Via Francigena, the route from Canterbury to the holy places in Rome.

The hermitage was situated just a little off the road but close enough to be visited by pilgrims. It is cut into the hillside and consisted of a Gothic church, the hermits' convento or friary, places for working and storage, a cloister (clausura) roofed over on two sides and a channel for bringing fresh water to the residents. The hermit friars always took two things into consideration when they built hermitages and then friaries: access to the road to welcome pilgrims and guests and access to water.

Hermitage of Rosia :: Eremo di Rosia (Santa Lucia)

Hermitage of Santa Lucia a Rosia :: Eremo di Santa Lucia a Rosia

Santa Lucia was part of the collection of early communities that were already in existence at the time of the formation of the Order beginning in 1244 with what is called 'the Little Union'. It was begun by a hermit named Bonacorso somewhere around the year 1170, but seems to have been inhabited for several centuries before. There is evidence of at least one other church beneath the present one. Tombs were found there dating from the 10 C and walls beneath the house indicate 9 C origins. In 1969, the site was excavated and two coins were found at the level of the second church, one from Henry II of Germany (1002) and the other of Guido Tarlato, the archbishop of Arezzo (shortly after), suggesting occupation of the site prior to the foundation of the hermitage. We know that Bonacorso soon attracted a number of followers because a community was already flourishing by 1200 when it is first mentioned in written documents.

There is a plaque in the Communal Library of Siena which attests to the completion of a church on the Rosia site by Magister Martinus in the year 1252.

Its Augustinian connections were recognised during the Augustinian Grand Union of 1250, when Domenic, the prior at Rosia, was elected Econome General (treasurer) of the Order.

In all likelihood the Rosia hermits adopted the Rule of Augustine in 1244 at the "Little Union", the founding of the Order of Saint Augustine with unification, by an edict of the Pope, of as many as sixty such hermitages throughout Tuscany, including several in the vicinity of Siena.

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Like the legends of Lecceto and Centumcelle, Rosia lays claim to a visit from St. Augustine during the year of 387 on his way from Milan to Rome. What is certain is that its Augustinian history is attested to by the Acts of the General Chapter of 1250, when its prior, Domenic, was elected as Econome General or General Treasurer of the Order. In all likelihood, the community adopted the Rule of St. Augustine in 1244 at the moment of the unification of the hermitages of Tuscany.

Also, like Lecceto, Rosia had its Blessed, saintly friars, whose popular cults gave rise to a number of legends. We know the names of four of them: Rinero, Gualfredo, Pietro de Rossi, and Giacomo. Pietro was renowned for his devotion to the cross and the gift of tears when contemplating the pains of Christ. Giacomo was a lay brother who dedicated himself to the poor and the sick and who succeeded in having an apple tree produce twice a year.

It is said that Blessed Augustine Novello, a well-known friar in nearby Sienna, lived here for a while. He entered the Order after a career as a lawyer in the court of King Manfred in Sicily. After Manfred's death on the battlefield, he fled Sicily and became an Augustinian lay brother, keeping his real identity and talents hidden. The prior of Rosia discovered who he was and passed the news to Rome.

The Prior General ordered Augustine to become an ordained priest and to lend his assistance to the whole Order. He was one of the principal collaborators in the composition of the first Constitutions of the Order of St. Augustine decreed in Ratisbon, Germany, in 1290. This clearly indicates how rapidly the order spread through Europe in a very brief time. Blessed Augustine Novello was also Prior General for a time but he resigned the post in mid-term to retire to another Tuscany convento, that of San Leonardo di Lago, located a shore distance from Lecceto.

Still another important name is associated with Rosia, that of the Blessed Clement of Osimo, known as the greatest of the Prior Generals in the formative period of the Order. During his many travels to weld together the heterogeneous elements out of which the Order had been formed by the Grand Union of 1256 into a body one in spirit and action as well as outward appearance, Santo Lucia of Rosia is mentioned as one of the communities he visited.

By 1575 the hermitage (eremo) had been made a branch of the large Augustinian community in Sienna. In 1638, only two men remained there, and Santa Lucia at Rosia closed.

The ruins of the church still reflect its elegant simplicity, a hallmark of Augustinian life, in the one standing wall of alternating white and red marble in the Pisa-Lucchese style. The convent has been much transformed during the years it functioned as a farmhouse. Completely abandoned for years now, its most interesting pieces have been taken away and placed in the home of the owner of the land. However, three gothic arches and the traces of a number of windows remain to give evidence of what it once looked like.

Rosia is often a point of pilgrimage for Augustinian visitors to Saint Augustine's Church in San Gimignano.

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