Two weeks ago on holiday in Italy we walked to a tiny, ancient hermitage perched on top of an enormous rocky outcrop, about 25 km north of Sansepolcro. It had begun life as a Benedictine monastery before the Franciscans took over the care of the place. Twice we walked up steep dry rocky paths and on the second day, after waiting for an hour in a pocket of shade, the care-taker arrived, two heavy bags of figs in his hands. I was a little disappointed that Chiara, the caretaker who we had read about, and who had lived there before with her legions of goats, was nowhere to be seen. The tiny cemetery had three fresh well-tended graves.
Entering the Eremo was like crossing the threshold of a magical land, or a tardis of some sort. The courtyard was beautiful, with an enormous clock, an ancient well, and the saying ‘pray and work’ high upon the wall. The chapel felt as if the air was concentrated with prayer, coolness and silence. You would never imagine you were on high ground surrounded by eagles and precipitous ledges. We stayed a while in the sacred atmosphere. As we were leaving we read a clipping about the death of Chiara, two years previously. There were many pictures of her with her goats; in most of the pictures they appeared to be climbing her legs, or gazing with love into her eyes.
We paid our respects at her grave, and beside the cross was a photograph of Chiara with a black goat, it’s face pressed against hers.