Escape Artists

Only in the Woods is there Peace

During a magnificent pranzo on my first day at the hermitage, consisting of pappardelle with duck and white sauce, vegetable soup, and various local dolci, current owner of Eremo delle Grazie, Valeria Lalli told us of its truly amazing history of this secluded historical residence in Monteluco, Umbria.  She inherited the house and surrounding grounds from her father, who in turn purchased it from his uncle.  She told us stories that had been passed down and transcribed, some of which were almost unbelievable.  I have described much of the history in my first article about the Hermitage, now it’s time for the stories that make this place truly extraordinary.

Freshly made pappardelle Freshly made pappardelle


Among the high profile guests this quiet mountainside has seen, including two Popes and various members of the Catholic Church, one can argue that the most famous guest was that of Michelangelo, the artist.  Yes, THAT Michelangelo.  He stayed at the Hermitage twice, once on recommendation from the Bishop Alessandro Farnese, escaping from the Spanish forces invading the Roman Empire, and again as a return visit for quiet and solitude.  He once wrote in a letter to fellow artist Giorgio Vasari, stating “un gran piaceri nelle montagne di Spuleti a visitar que’ romiti…Che veramente sol né boschi è pace.”  This roughly translates to “A great pleasure in these mountains of Spoleto, visting these hermits…That truly only in the woods is there peace.” He also was rumored to have written on one of the walls of his cell, something in the vein of “Michelangelo was here on this day in peace,” but the original has not been found for years as it was painted over during one of the reconstructions.  Additionally, one of the students that stayed at Eremo delle Grazie was so enamored with the fact that he was living on the same grounds that Michelangelo had, that he created a replica of his timeless statue, the Pieta, as a gesture of beauty and respect.  It still graces the altar of the chapel to this day.

The Eremo's Pieta replica The Eremo’s Pieta replica

Napoleon’s forces and the Family Tree

There are many clues left behind as to some of the more transient visitors to the Ereme Delle Grazie.  It is evident that Napoleon’s forces spent some time there during their many invasions, leaving signs on the walls that indicate that they may have used this sacred place as a hospital to treat their wounded. In 1918, Professor Arrigo Piperno purchased the Hermitage, Valeria’s great uncle.  He was employed as a world renowned dentist and was also a prominent Jew of the area.   He had the privilege and reputation to fix the teeth of not only Pope Pius the XII, but also the family one of the world’s most powerful men at the time, none other than Benito Mussolini. Once World War II had begun to take hold, Mussolini took Piperno aside and told him he could no longer use his services, but as a show of respect for his work and for an artist of his caliber, he promised to protect him and his family and never allow harm to come their way.  He kept his promise.  Now imagine this story in floral Italian and after a couple of glasses of Prosecco; it’s enough to give anyone goosebumps.

The sun stops to say ciao The sun stops to say ciao

An Amazing History

In 1952, Professor Pio Lalli, Valeria’s father, bought the Hermitage from his uncle and continued to preserve this historical and fascinating residence.  Now, you can always find a member of the family there, mostly Valeria, who are dedicated to holding onto this gem of a location with as much pride as there once was when it was being created.  Of all the places I have visited, this one continues to stand out to me, not only for the natural beauty, the solitude, or the historical significance, but also for the kindness and hospitality that was shared with me and my family while we were there.  It is a place never to be forgotten.


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