About 50 miles east of Santa Fe, some 10,000 feet, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Hermit Peak climbs amid the woodland of the Pecos Wilderness. The hermit was Giovanni Maria de Agostini, an Italian-born monk. Agostini lived in the mountain foraging for food and getting water from a spring for three years in the 1860s. Regardless of his self-imposed solitude, he managed to attract a decent following in America during an age of religious fervor and experimentation.

At the end of the 19th century, to honor him, a neighborhood organization created the Sociedad del Ermitaño or the Society of the Hermit, which counted 62 members. Their primary practice was a long trek to the summit erect crosses and to pray. The Society of the solemn tradition of the Hermit has almost faded, and there is a possibility that it may be dropped.

Joseph Abeyta, a 36-year-old resident of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said that she goes to Mass on Sundays and takes her children too, but she feels closer to God praying in this cave, stressing that her uncle was right here and her grandpa was right here. The Abeytas were the ones that made the decision, although there are a handful of other Society members in the region.

Biography of Agostini

The hermit himself was never part of a monastery or an established parish. Agostini was born in 1801 and, based on his writings, “began to incline toward a solitary life” at the age of 5. In Rome, he joined the Maronite Church in his 30s. Maronite Christians, mostly found in Syria and Lebanon, weren’t mainstream in Italy. Agostini desired to model himself on St. Anthony of Qozhaya, a third-century Maronite who spent 20 years in seclusion and then founded the first Christian monastery.

David Thomas, author of the biography of Agostini Wonder of the Century: The Astonishing World Traveler Who Was a Hermit, believes that Agostini did the same thing as St. Anthony.   St. Anthony would go to some spot, always picked a cave to live in, and live an exemplary primitive life there. Similarly, Agostini traveled all over Europe and South America. He crossed the Andes and canoed down the major rivers in the continent.

Word spread that a sacred Egyptian man appeared on a mountaintop. To this, Thomas says that most hermits just want to reside in the middle of nowhere. Agostini attracted a massive following in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, the government arrested him. The nation’s top official wrote in a letter that the monk had encouraged good fanaticism about himself.

In 1861, Agostini headed to Mexico, he attracted a large following and was sent to asylum there. Officials deported him to Havana after five months, Agostini then walked miles to Montreal and took a steamship. The hermit then wrote in his journal that the cold climate of New France seemed to have hardened the heart of its inhabitants. His ragged clothes and mean look didn’t appeal to the Canadians. His lack of French also made it difficult for him to explain to the Quebecois why he looked the way he did and lived the same way. “It has been the saddest period of my life.” wrote Agostini in his journal.