The Hermitage of Montespecchio is one is the hardest to reach. To get there, you have to climb a very steep narrow path called “Conventaccio” by the local inhabitants. The path goes through a dense forest with gnarly trees covered with moss and lichens.The hermitage, dedicated to Mary, was founded in 1190 by a hermit named Giovanni, as a result of a donation by the Capolungo family. An unusual characteristic of this hermitage, differentiating it from the others in the Tuscany area, is its walls of salmon pink and black stone. Of the church, only the skeleton remains, while the surface occupied by the ancient convent is still visible. Montespecchio, for reasons still shrouded in mystery, was almost always in close contact with Lecceto, but, in contrast to Lecceto, it only officially adopted the Augustinian Rule in 1255.
The Hermitage of Montespecchio was built by monks of St. Augustine’s Order in 1192 near the famous serpentinite caves of Vallerano. They managed excavation and sales of the “black marble of Vallerano” as serpentinite was called then, which was in high demand for decorating churches around Italy. It was, for instance, used to build the spectacular Siena cathedral.
The convent was built in two colours: pink and black marble, both valuable and expensive building materials. The church was part of one of the largest Augustinian convent complexes of its time from which only a few foundation stones remain today.
At the end of the 17th century the convent was abandoned, partly, because the buildings were crumbling slowly due to geologically unstable ground and also, as a surviving from those days document says, the monks were tired of being so isolated.
The hermitage is still in the middle of nowhere and is not easy to find. But the beauty of the ruins is undeniable: arched windows, traces of pilasters, the alternating black and red stripes of the outside walls. I could easily imagine how elegant that church was in its glory days. A local cultural foundation published booklets with detailed plans and descriptions of the hermitage and some local enthusiasts have tried to campaign for the church restoration, unsuccessfully. The forest will continue to swallow Eremo di Montespecchio, so if you are near Murlo in the Siena province, don’t miss a chance to see this vanishing beauty. Before it is gone forever…