Augnet here focuses only on the best-known hermitages that went had historical significance in the subsequent history of the Order of St Augustine. A blossoming in both research in Augustinian history and the publication of Augustinian historical resources took place in the decades after World War II.
Photo (below). The remains of the substantial chapel of the hermitage at Montespecchio, dedicated to Santa Maria (St Mary). Now amidst forest regrowth, its two side walls tilt distinctly outwards. It was used by the Order of St Augustine at least to the year 1687, and after that slipped from written records.
In the several Augustinian historical journals after World War II, there are references to dozens of Tuscan hermitages (amidst possibly a greater number of other hermitages that were in the Benedictine tradition) that went on to be involved with the Little Union of hermitages in 1244 and/or the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256. In many cases, all this is known of a given hermitage is a cryptic reference or two in civil or ecclesiastical records as it received a necessary permission to accept a donation of land or to erect a public chapel, etc. In numerous cases, neither the actual location nor many other details about such a hermitage is any longer known.
It is difficult – in fact, almost impossible – to tally just how many hermitages have existed in 11th-century and 12th-century Tuscany – a geographic area larger than what is called Tuscany today – at any one time. Even if it is presumed (perhaps unwisely) that every hermitage that existed was captured in what ancient civic and ecclesiastical records of Tuscany still exists today, there is the real problem that a given hermitage may have moved its location as the number of its members increased, thus introducing the factor that such a group of hermits could mistakenly be counted twice in any tally that has been attempted.
The double counting could also happen if a particular hermitage was described differently in different sources, such as by the name of its patron saint in one description and according to its geography in another, e.g., Hermitage of S. Giorgio in one document and Eremo della Spelonca in another. There is also the factor that, over the two centuries under consideration, a suitable area for a hermitage could have hosted a number of quite distinct hermitages successively or even simultaneously. In a word, the problem of tallying these hermitages will never be satisfactorily solved. They began as local initiatives, without any initial networks of interaction or mutual planning, and these hermits themselves had no intention of spending time counting hermitages or of ensuring the clarity of their place in the historical record eight centuries later.
Tuscany, in Italy, was one of the regions of Europe in which the hermit movement of the eleventh and twelfth centuries was most common. Throughout the area there were many anchorites and small groups of hermits who had little or no contact among themselves.
Illustration (below). Modern-day Tuscany, showing its provinces. The cities mention on this page are marked, i.e., Lucca, Pisa and Siena. Two other cities with Augustinian church are appear, i.e., Firenze (Florence) and San Gimignano.
They were representatives of that particular form of religious life which the decree, Ne nimium, of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 sought to organize by requiring them to live in community, to held elective chapters, to be under obedience to a major superior and adopt one of the Rules approved by the Church. Some of these Tuscan hermits adopted the Rule of St Augustine, which in its brevity of instructions was suitable for simple eremitical (“hermit style”) living, while other hermitages chose the much lengthier and more detailed Rule of St Benedict, which was better-known in the church and at that time used in far more religious houses throughout Europe.
The Little Union of 1244 attempted to gather together all hermitages in Tuscany that had not as yet adopted all of the requirements of the Fourth Lateran Council, and even drew in some hermitages that previously had followed the Rule of Benedict. These hermitages became participants in the Little Union of 1244, and henceforth were known by the title, Fratres Heremitarium in Tuscia Ordinis Sancti Augustini, (“the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany”). This amalgamation of Tuscan hermits was subsequently described as a "little" union in comparison to the more extensive Grand Union of 1256 i.e., the establishment of the Order of Saint Augustine that still exists today, of which these Tuscan hermits of 1244 were in 1256 to become a part. From 1244 until 1256, the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany can be considered in terms of two geographical sub-regions in Tuscany: one was that of the provinces of Lucca and Pisa, the other that of Siena and the regions surrounding it.
In the former group were included, among many other hermitages, the hermitages of S. Giorgio della Spelonca, San Giacomo di Cella, S. Maria Maddalena di Valle Buona, S. Maria di Monteforte, S. Maria Maddalena di Carfagnana, San Giorgio and San Galgano di valle Buona, S. Maria di Brancoli, S. Maria di compito, San Michele di Buti, San Salvatore di Cascina and S. Maria di Lupocavo. The principal hermitages of the Sienese group were San Salvatore di Lecceto, San Leonardo al Lago, Sant'Antonio d'Ardinghesca, S. Maria di Montespecchio, Catasta, Rosia, S. Fiora and Monticiano-Camerata. By the year 1223, four of the houses of the region of Lucca and Pisa had already united under one superior, and the same was true of two of the hermitages of the Province of Siena in 1231. In other words, their progress towards some type of confederation was spontaneously happening well before the advent of the papal-promoted Little Union of 1244 and the more extensive Grand Union of 1256. For example, after the Little Union of 1244 the Pisa/Lucca province of the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany extended their foundations into Liguria, Romagna and Venetia, while those of the province of Siena acquired Monte Cimino in Latium, Centoceile (at Civitavechia, and not to be confused with Centumcellae) in the province of Rome, and in 1250, by grant of the Holy See, S. Maria del Popolo in the city of Rome itself.
13th Century Augustinian Monasteries. Text by Fr. Brian Lowery, OSA, Ph.D, and uploaded by the Augustinians in California, USA. An excellent overview, with illustrations. http://osa-west.org/ancient-osa-monasteries.html
For further reading
You are welcome to go to Augnet’s pages that offer a more detailed coverage of the Tuscan hermits and the Little Union. Click here.