Thursday, 1 October 2009

Le Grotte di Santa Sperandia and La Roccaccia

The cave on the northern slopes of Monte Acuto must have been difficult to see in the 13th century and even harder to get to. Carved out of the mountain's precipitous cliffs, it sits above the the rugged valley of the Laque river just a few kilometres from Cingoli. Today one can clamber down the steep slope on sets of wooden and travertine steps to the place of stone and solitude where Santa Sperandia spent so many years of Benedictine penitence. Just getting down there in the 1200s must have been an ordeal, never mind how one might survive in such an environment.

But Sperandia was no ordinary ascetic.

More than a mere visionary, she was also renowned for her ability to perform miracles, and is best known for her act of producing fresh cherries to some hungry labourers one cold and snowy January. She died in 1276, and her incorrupt body now lies in state in the Sanctuary dedicated to her in Cingoli, where she is the town's patron saint.

From the ridge of the mountain, the views are impressive. The closest town to the north is Cingoli, while to the south-east one can see Treia and Macerata. To the west you can see Monte San Vicino, while in the distance to the east lies Monte Conero and the Adriatic … on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was so hazy when I visited that I could barely see Macerata.

On the edge of the mountain ridge are the ruins of the 13th century La Roccaccia. Only a few crumbling walls remain, but the surrounding area is littered with the stones of the one-time important medieval fortress.

Monte Acuto with its man-made relics is an interesting place to consider the relationship between man and nature. It's clear that nature is slowly winning the battle to reclaim the territory of La Roccaccia, and Santa Sperandia's cave will remain intact for a long time, etched as it is into a cliff of stone upon which little grows. But the concrete shrine built into the cave in the 1970s covers a large part of its entrance, and it leaves you pondering what the intent was of its (evidently well-meaning) architects. One wonders what Santa Sperandia would make of this. There's little doubt she'd be less than enamoured with the quarries (and the accompanying drone of its trucks) that scar the hillsides below her erstwhile silent haven.

Despite the human intrusions, it's still a wonderful place to spend some time, whether as a destination in and of itself or as a stopover or excursion between/from San Severino and/or Cingoli. Just behind the cross where you can leave your car is a wonderful cool patch of green grass just begging for a blanket, a picnic, and a lazy snooze. I was hard-pressed to ignore its call …

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