Eremo di San Cataldo

Useful Information

Location: At the provincial road 45 that connects Cottanello to Rieti, 200 m from Cottanello.
(42.410406, 12.689958)
Open: All year daily.
After appointment at the tourist office.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Eremo di San Cataldo, Ufficio turistico di Cottanello, Via del Corridoio 2, Cottanello, 02040, Tel: +39-0746-66122-9, Cell: +39-338-1952548. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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11th century fresco of Christ seated on a jeweled throne and the twelve apostles around him created.
1217-1223 hermitage visited by St. Francis.
~1497 some inhabitants of Cottanello fought in the Italian War in Puglia.
1888 provincial road built.
1944 fresco rediscovered unintentionally by German troops.
2005 restoration of the hermitage.


The Eremo di San Cataldo (Hermitage of Saint Cataldus) is a small hermitage built at the overhanging granite cliff between Cottanello and Rieti in the Reatini Mountains. It was erected in the 10th century, when Benedictine monks moved to this area from the Abbey of Farfa, to spend long periods of hermitage and prayer at the remote place. Most likely the hermitage was dedicated to San Cataldo by those Benedictine monks. At this time the saint's body was discovered during the reconstruction of the cathedral of Taranto. This story made the news at this time. Another theory links the veneration of the saint to Cottanello at the end of the 16th century. Some inhabitants of Cottanello fought in the Italian War in Puglia, where San Cataldo once landed, returning from the Holy Land. When they returned they brought the Cataldo cult to Cottanello. For centuries the town had two patrons, San Cataldo and Sant'Andrea (Saint Andrew), both celebrated on 10 May.

According to legend the small hermitage was the place where San Cataldo lived a simple life. Every day he went down to the stream to wash and then returned to the hermitage. There was no trail and he had to climb down the cliff face, but the rock became soft to facilitate the coming and going of the saint. This is how the series of holes, small hollows and cracks in the rock face below the hermitage formed.

This legend is pure fantasy, because San Cataldo never lived in this area.

Cataldo was from Ireland, and was inspired by his parents, fervent Christians and devout people. After their death he gave all his possessions to the poor and became a priest. In 680 he was ordained bishop of Rochau and went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When he returned to Italy he came to Taranto, where the inhabitants still followed paganism, and started the important work of evangelization. According to legend he was sent to Taranto by an apparition of Jesus during his visit to the Holy Sepulcher. He died in this city in 685. After his death he became an important religious figure, the center of a cult and was later canonised.

The Eremo di San Cataldo was erected in the 10th century, long after the death of the Saint, so he obviously never lived there. A small church was built around the the hermitage, dug into the rock and decorated with religious scenes and various depictions of the Madonna and Child. A fresco in the church shows Christ seated on a jeweled throne and the twelve apostles around him, executed in Byzantine style. St. Peter with the keys and St. Paul with the sword are easily recognizable. It is dated to the 11th or 12th century which makes it the oldest fresco in Sabina. A religious sign on the right leg of Christ is most likely the work of Saint Francis who visited the hermitage between 1217 and 1223. The fresco was later covered by plaster and a painting of 17th century Cottanello and was forgotten, until it was rediscovered unintentionally by German troops in 1944. On their retreat they blew up the bridge of the road below. The Hermitage remained miraculously intact, only the plaster of the vault cracked and the famous fresco reappeared.

The hermitage is not far from the town, but the road is rather new, it was built in 1888. Until then there was not even a trail through the gorge. The next road was a mule track to the Prati di Cottanello (meadows of Cottanello), located above the hermitage. Some dry stone walls visible above the hermitage are probably the remains of path from this mule track to the hermitage. When the road was built a new stone staircase was erected from the road to the hermitage, the path slowly faded.

In 2005 the hermitage was restored by the Fondazione Varrone di Rieti (Varrone Foundation of Rieti), under the supervision of the Soprintendenza dei Beni Artistici, Storici ed Etnoantropologici del Lazio (Superintendence of Artistic, Historical and Ethno-anthropological Heritage of Lazio). At this time the fresco was finally restored. And an altar was built of the precious red Cottanello marble, which was quarried since Roman times. It became famous during the Roman Baroque, when great sculptors such as Bernini and Borromini used it to decorate the churches. It was used for the construction of 44 columns inside St. Peter's Basilica, and was used in the churches Sant’Agnese in Agone at the Piazza Navona, in Santa Maria Maggiore, in Santa Maria degli Angeli, and in Sant’Andrea al Quirinale.