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Eremo Le Celle
Cortona, Italy

Known as Le Celle, this Franciscan hermitage is just five kilometres from Cortona at the foot of Mount Sant’Egidio. In 1211 St. Francis, along with a few of his followers, built the first nine cells of the hermitage and the place has taken the name of Le Celle ever since. Before their arrival there were only a few small hermits' cottages and peasant dwellings, along with a small chapel that had been built during the Longobard invasions in the 6th century and dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

This is believed to be the place where, in May 1226, four months before his death, St. Francis dictated his Will. Following the death of the saint in Assisi, in October of the same year, Brother Elias withdrew permanently to the Le Celle hermitage in 1239 and carried out a number of improvements and restoration works that ensured the hermitage became a Franciscan property in every right. Brother Elias is in fact considered responsible for having broken up the stone of the caves and created a chapel that was formerly used as a dormitory by the monks. Behind the chapel is the small cell where St. Francis lived. The walls built under Brother Elias are rough but solid, and the hermitage contains eight small rooms large enough for a bed, a table and a chair – the essential furnishings prescribed by St. Francis himself for a Franciscan hermitage, where the prime importance was to lead a life given over to contemplation.

After Brother Elias' death in Cortona in 1253, the Franciscan order fell into a complicated series of internal divisions. The hermitage was occupied by a community of "Spirituali", or "Fraticelli", until they were banished in 1363 after suffering excomunication from Pope John Giovanni XXII. Le Celle stood abandoned until 1537, when it was granted by the Bishop of Cortona to the recently founded Third Order of Franciscans, known as the Capucins. The hermitage was considerably enlarged by the Capucins, who in 1634 erected a new chapel to take the place of the ancient chapel dedicated to St. Michael. This new chapel was consecrated to St. Anthony of Padua and reflects the simple, unpretentious architectural and decorative style of the Capucins. Unadorned by works of art, the chapel still has wooden altars.