Friday, 23 March 2012

Serramonacesca: The Hermitage & Festa of San 'Onofrio

San ’Onofrio

The Eremo of Sant Onofrio, Serramonacesca

The hermitage of Sant ‘Onofrio is reached from Serramonacesca, following the road to the Abbey and turning to the right, following the signs.  The route takes you alongside the ruins of Castel Menardo and then continues on and up until you finally reach the sanctuary of Sant ‘Onofrio.

The hermitage includes a church, which emerges from, and merges with, the striking natural cavities of the limestone massif that towers above it.  There are several rooms, part in brick and part dug out of the rock.  

Inside the Eremo

Probably constructed around the XII century, unlike the other Eremo of the Majella, Onofrio is not connected to the figure of Peter Celestine, but rather to the presence of the Abbey of San Liberatore.  The Eremo probably provided a retreat for the monks and a place for them to administer the vast mountain properties of the estate in relative solitude.
Sant ‘Onofrio himself, according to legend, was the son of the King of Persia who paid his penance by living in solitude locked up in the cave for 40 years, fully alone.  He was found later by San Pannunzio covered only by hair and beard, which is depicted by the icon you will see at the alter in the church.
Sant 'Onofrio

Behind the alter, there are two openings which lead to the cradle of San Onophrious.  This may have been a primitive sleeping place for the hermits, but it is also believed to hold healing powers.  If one lies in here in contact with the rock, the devout believe they will be cured of certain bone ailments.
Such is the importance of Sant ‘Onofrio to the town, that he is honoured in every year in Serramonacesca in the annual festa of Sant ‘Onofrio and Sant’ Antonio.  
The Festa of San Onofrio & San Antonio

The Fires of San Onofrio
On 11th June, on the eve of the festivities, the “Fires of Sant’ Onofrio” are ignited near the Eremo in the shape of a cross so large it can be seen across the land.  The next morning, the morning of the 12th, the priest leads the pilgrimage to the Eremo for religious service, returning in procession to the town with the statue of Sant’ Onofrio.
The procession down the mountain into the town of Serramonacesca

In the afternoon of the 12th, the festivities of Sant’ Onofrio are joined by another celebration - the “Blessing of the Bread” in honour of Sant’ Antonio, the subject of a popular miracle.  According to the legend, a woman who had lost her child prayed to Sant’ Antonio to return her child to life.  
In humble gratefulness, she promised to give bread of equal grain to the weight of the child.  In recognition of the pain and faith of the woman, the miracle was formed and the tradition of the children of the town parading with baskets of bread began.

The procession of the children, Serramonacesca

...and the feasting of the festa begins!


  1. Most interesting detail of local history around 'Serra'. Thanks for sharing! Great pictures too.


    1. Hi, thanks for your kind words. I'm not 100% sure of timings this week, but will check today and let you know :-)