The hermitage of Rupe Cava (or Lupo Cavo) was, along with the hermitage of S. Giorgio della Spelonca, one of the numerous hermitages on Mount Pisano in the thirteenth century. It lay on the hillside opposite the town of Ripafratta. The words “rupe cava” mean "hollow rock".
Images (above). Top left: One entrance to Lupocavo. Top right: The Chapel of S. Maria ad Martires wedged between two huge outcrops of rock. Bottom left: The facade of the chapel. Bottom right: Looking towards the sanctuary of the chapel. With the roof now missing, the interior of the chapel is open to rain and snow.
There are actually two caves. The first one, in front of the entry of the hermitage, was once used as a refectory for the monks and subsequently turned into a storage area for grain. The second cave was called Grotta della Goccia ("the Cave of the Drop") because of a popular belief that attributes miraculous powers to the dripping water from the vault of the cavern. (The dripping has now almost permanently ceased.)
This cave contained inside an artistic tabernacle with terracotta statues representing the Virgin Mary between two saints. The statue of the Madonna di Rupecava from the year 1326 by Andrea Pisano, is today situated in the church of Ripafratta. Between two huge rock outcrops a chapel of moderate size was built (see photos above) and dedicated to Santa Maria ad Martires (St Mary of the Martyrs). It is now quite derelict and dangerous to enter; however, traces of a fresco dating back to the sixteenth century are still visible there.
There is archaeological evidence that two hermitage buildings were situated near the church. It can be expected, here as well as in other originally cave-dwelling hermitages, that as soon as numbers increased to only to as many as four or five permanent members (or a new member was a priest), buildings had to be erected outside the caves, and the original cave changed from being living quarters possibly into becoming exclusively a chapel or a “hermitage within the hermitage” – an inner sanctum.
Obviously, if visits or local people wished to attend Mass, a chapel had to be built that could accommodate greater numbers than were in the eremitical community. The site, certainly, was still an out-of-the-way place of prayer and peacefulness, but no longer a place of near-absolute solitude.
The hermitage was consecrated in 1214 and abandoned in 1750. After that day, it was still a place of pilgrimage and, until a few decades ago, was the focus of a religious procession on 8th September annually. People also visited the site at other times to collect the fallen water drops from the Grotta della Goccia ("the Cave of the Drop"), as mentioned above.
The hermitage became part of the Order of Hermits of St Augustine in Tuscany that was formed by the Little Union of 1244, and thereby became part of the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256. In its later history, the Augustinian name attributed to this site was S. Maria di Lupocavo.
In the Order of Hermits of St Augustine in Tuscany, it had been part of their Pisa-Lucca province. There was another province centred on Siena that included hermitages such as Lecceto, Rosia, S. Leonardo al Lago and S. Maria di Montespecchio.
There is a tradition that St Augustine of Hippo visited a hermitage on this Rupe Cava (or Lupo Cavo) site. With the tradition that Augustine had on Mount Pisano visited the site of S. Giogio della Spelonca, it was not much of a further stretch of the imagination to expect that he also visited Lupo Cave nearby, especially if he stayed for two years at Spelonca (which, in fact, he never visited at all).
You can reach the hermitage by two different roads. The first one is a path, which begins in the town centre of Ripafratta in Via Silvestro Lega. The second one goes through the town of Molina di Quosa (Via Panoramica); this road is longer but less steep, and you can reach the starting point by car. Starting from the waypoint, follow the CAI path #10, the walk takes about fifteen minutes. During the wet season it is advisable to wear hiking boots or gumboots because the pathway is quite muddy.
A warning to visitors: The hermitage buildings are in very bad condition, and it is very dangerous to enter them.
Photos (at right)
Picture 1: Padlocked entrance to the chapel. Picture 2: Sanctuary of the chapel.Picture 3: Looking out the chapel through the main door.
Rupecava (Lupocavo). A page on a local Montipisani website. Has good images of the r5uins of the Lupocavo chapel. http://www.montipisani.com/index.php/la-storia-dei-monti-pisani/rupecava