Santa Rosalia Heritage in Santo Stefano Quisquina
The hermitage of Santa Rosalia in Quisquina is a construction along the slopes of Mount Quisquina in the territory of Santo Stefano Quisquina, an Italian town in the province of Agrigento, in Sicily.
The hermitage was built in the vicinity of the cave where for a large part of her life, St. Rosalia, the Palermo virgin, took refuge.
Located at 986 m asl, the eremitical structure is characterized by an architectural style defined as environmental because built and grown in stages almost in an organic way and that is well camouflaged with the surrounding environment; the hermitage includes, in addition to the "cave", the church, the crypt and the conventual areas such as the cells, the kitchen and the refectory.
The Quisquina wood, located to the north-east of Santo Stefano Quisquina, is a damp and shady place, so much so that the Saracens called it "Koschin" (that is dark); it was the ideal place to hide.
In a camouflaged cave of hardly accessible vegetation, the young Rosalia, fleeing the worldly life and in search of solitude, peace and above all of God, found a home for twelve years (probably from 1150 to 1162).
The history of the hermitage began in 1624, when, a few weeks after the discovery of the remains of the Saint in the cave of Mount Pellegrino in Palermo, two masons from Palermo on August 25 found the cave and the epigraph in the centuries-old Quisquina wood; a chapel was immediately built nearby. A few years later, the Genoese merchant Francesco Scassi, learns the history of Santa Rosalia and the cave so, he decided to come to Sicily and invest all his money in the construction of the Hermitage. After having built the church, some cells, a kitchen and a stable, he decided to retire and to live with three other men here in this hermitage he built. They will found an independent congregation of friars devoted to Santa Rosalia, which over time will become completely self-sufficient: the mill, the barn, the shoemaking shop, the carpentry shop and whatever else is inside the Hermitage. During the eighteenth century the Hermitage of Quisquina is one of the most renowned in all of Sicily, was visited by bishops, princes and cardinals and is also the object of their donations. The fame and prosperity brought to the Hermitage many new friars so the Ventimiglias, Barons of Santo Stefano, provide to expand and enrich the structure, with this intervention the Hermitage can accommodate up to a hundred friars. In reality the friars themselves are never more than ten so the novices had to pass a trial period before becoming effective members of the congregation. This selection is necessary given the variety of people who arrived at the Hermitage, in fact, next to the devotees came the children of the poorest families in the area or even criminals and bandits who would have enjoyed religious asylum within the order. For this last factor it completely changes the internal structure of the Hermitage. At the end of the nineteenth century, numerous episodes contributed to the decline of the congregation and the few true religious who remained were placed in the minority. This episode of decadence ends in 1928 when the congregation is dissolved and the friars expelled from the structure. But the friars actually remained at the Hermitage the last known hermit is Fra Vicè (Vincenzo) who lived in solitude the last years of his life living on alms and what the people of the neighboring countries offered him, he died in 1986 at the age of 98 years. Today The Hermitage is entrusted to the management of the Pro Loco of Santo Stefano Quisquina.
Thanks to the interest of the Prince Ventimiglia, on September 25th 1625 some fragments of the Saint's relics were given to the stefanesi, who were placed in a bust showing Santa Rosalia. The bust is kept in an artistic chapel in the mother church and is carried on a pilgrimage every year on foot to the hermitage on the Tuesday following the first Sunday in June.
On 5 June 2015, in the presence of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Agrigento, Cardinal Francesco Montenegro inaugurated "The Itinerary Rosaliae", a 180 km long path that connects the two main Sanctuaries of Santa Rosalia, that of Quisquina with that of Monte Pellegrino in Palermo. It is a path created by the forestry that proposes a naturalistic itinerary, through numerous towns and natural reserves of the Palermo and Agrigento areas, which although it does not trace the historicity of the road traveled by the Saint, proposes a walkable and attractive alternative for the centers crossed and for the naturalistic riches traveled.