Hermitages and sanctuaries the Elba

Precious receptacles of worship and prayer: hermitages and sanctuaries

When Roman rule came to an end, the western part of the Mediterranean returned to its former insecurity; unless they were fortified, the cities along the coast were subjected to an increasing number of attacks. Even on the island of Elba, whole villages moved to the more mountainous areas which were more difficult to reach and lay siege to, and the number of inhabitants fell significantly. In the more isolated areas, small, even tiny communities of monks were created, including individual hermitages, called Romitori. These are often situated in places of great scenic beauty where it is possible to rediscover the peace and serenity experienced by these holy men. The oldest and most famous of these, the Romitorio di San Cerbone, to which the saint and bishop of Populonia withdrew in 572 to escape from the Lombards, was originally probably only a cave that was subsequently transformed into a small church and hermitage. During the Counter-Reformation, between the 16th and 17th centuries, some of these places became sanctuaries dedicated to the worship of the Madonna, with very simple but distinctive structures.


The medieval sanctuary to the Madonna del Monte at Marciana, hidden within a cool chestnut wood, was realized between the 13th and 14th centuries, using large blocks of granite, and subsequently rebuilt in the 16th century. A 15th century Madonna, painted on granite, is preserved here, whilst some of the figures depicted on the apse are attributed to Il Sodoma (originally Giovanni Antonio Bazzi). The sanctuary has a 20th century eclectic style crenellated bell tower and small sanctuaries devoted to the Stations of the Cross can be found along the road leading to the main building. Napoleon briefly stayed in the adjacent hermitage, which was also visited by St. Paolo della Croce. Legend has it that the 16th century sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie at Capoliveri, with its Latin cross plan and scaly covered dome with oriental elements on the belfry spire, was inhabited by ancient hermits, the followers St. Mamiliano, who moved to the island of Montecristo after the 5th century. The sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve at Lacona, built in the 16th century on top of a previous Romanesque structure, was altered several times between the 17th and 20th centuries.


The governor of Longone, José Pons y Léon, had the sanctuary of the Madonna del Monserrato , with its simple plastered dome, built in 1606 to evoke the sanctuary on the mountain of Montserrat Catalonia. Inside the sanctuary is a Black Madonna, similarto the one in Spain. The small church is opened every year on 8th September and 8thApril.The sanctuary of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, in Rio nell’Elba, which probably datesback to the 16th century, was also used as a hermitage, and is now a center for Europeanartists and has a botanical garden.