Eremo delle Carceri near Assisi

Eremo delle Carceri

Eremo delle Carceri

Eremo delle Carceri

The "Hermitage of the Prisons", better known as "L'Eremo delle Carceri", near Assisi in Umbria

Eremo delle Carceri
Eremo delle Carceri

The Eremo (Hermitage) delle Carceri is a refuge located not far from Assisi in a steep forest gorge on the slopes of Monte Subasio, at 791 m (2,595 ft) above sea level. The name Carceri comes from the Latin carceres, meaning “isolated places” or “prisons”.

In the 13 C, Saint Francis of Assisi often visited this location to pray and contemplate, as did other friars before him. When he first came in 1205, the only building there was a small 12 C oratory. As other monks followed him to Monte Subasio, establishing themselves in their own isolated caves and grottos, the oratory became known as Santa Maria delle Carceri after the small “prisons” occupied by friars in the area.

Eremo delle Carceri in the mountains above Assisi, Umbria
Eremo delle Carceri in the mountains above Assisi, Umbria
Eremo delle Carceri hermitage near Assisi, Umbria
Eremo delle Carceri hermitage near Assisi, Umbria

The land and the oratory were probably given by the Benedictines to St. Francis in 1215, at the same time that they gave him the Porziuncola in the valley below. Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray. Near the hermitage is a stone bridge and an ancient oak. According to legend, it was here that Saint Francis preached to the birds as they perched in the branches of the oak tree.

Around 1400, Saint Bernardino of Sienna built a small friary, which includes a little choir and a simple refectory. The original wooden stalls of the choir and the tables of the refectory, which date from the 15 C, can still be seen there. St. Bernardino also extended the earlier chapel by building a small church, which was also named Santa Maria delle Carceri. It contains a notable altarpiece fresco of the Virgin and Child.

In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis’ cave and the original oratory, forming the sizable monastery that exists today. Some Franciscan friars live there and visitors are welcome.


A variety of buildings were added around the cave of St Francis and the original oratory:

Entrata – from the gate a short tunnel leads to a courtyard and well, the latter traditionally said to have yielded water after a prayer by St. Francis. The door marked Santuario leads into the 15 C oratory built by St. Bernardine of Sienna.

St. Bernardine also built a small friary, which includes a little choir with wooden stalls dating from about 1400 and a simple refectory with the original tables from the same date. These two interesting areas can be visited only if accompanied by a friar of the community.

The rustic Cappella della Madonna, with an altarpiece fresco of the Virgin and Child.

The Grotto of St. Francis, where the saint prayed and slept on a stone bed while on retreat toward the end of his life.

The “Devils Hole” – through another doorway and rounding a corner, visitors emerge into a small porch. Just outside the door, look down for a quadrefoil-shaped hole in the smooth pink stone. into which St. Francis is said to have tossed a troublesome demon who tempted Brother Rufino.

Capella della Madonna
Capella della Madonna