Giovanni Maria Augustini – American hermit, ascetic, mystic

Over the coarse of reading about different hermits in the United States, I cam across a fasinating figure – Giovanni Maria Augustini, who was also known as Father Francesco.  Very little information exists about him, but quite a few people know of his murky history.  I am posting an article I found on the internet for everyone to read, as well as some photographs of the mystic and his hermitaries.

From Raven’s Bread, May 1998 edition by Father Jim Kennedy:

Dominating the landscape near Las Vegas, NM is a double-domed mountain called Hermits’ Peak. Some three hundred feet below the summit on the east side is a cave, the home in the 1860’s of Giovanni Maria Agostini – the third of our American Desert Fathers. He was in his sixties when, having walked from Kansas City to Las Vegas, NM as part of a wagon train, he trekked a further 18 miles to find his solitude on what was then known as Cerro del Tecolote (Owl Mountain).

Giovanni Maria was born in 1801 in the Tuscan region of Italy, apparently the son of a nobleman named Mattias Agostini. One romantic version of his early life includes the information that he entered seminary but was seduced by “a bewitching dark-eyed and lustrous-haired beauty · and fell in a most earthly way!” Others say he left seminary because of his differences with church policy. What is clear is that he left Italy in 1827, having made a vow NOT to accept holy orders but to live as a solitary in the spirit of St. Antony of Egypt with private vows of chastity and poverty from which no one could release him.

He began his life as a wandering solitary by traveling from shrine to shrine throughout Spain. He wore a black hood and cape similar to that worn in choir by Carthusian novices which has led some to surmise that he tried his vocation with both the Cistercians and Carthusians.

In 1838, he sailed for Latin America seeking the “high mountains and vast deserts ·in order to enter fully into a life of perfect solitude.” His search led him through Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Peru. In Peru he lived for a time in a cave high in the Andes. Everywhere he went, he preached and catechized when permission was given by local bishops but steadfastly refused to accept holy orders “because my vocation called me to solitude, not to the exalted ministry of the priesthood.”

Eventually he traveled (always by foot) through Central America and southern Mexico where he was expelled by the anti-clerical government of Benito Juarez. He went briefly to Cuba; sailed north to Quebec Province and then traveled through the U.S. By then he was a venerable old man in his 60’s with a long white beard, a pilgrim’s staff and bell, and still wearing his black capa and hood. Once in New Mexico, he wandered the small villages, giving advice and counsel, helping children with their catechism, and healing the ill and infirm with potions and herbs. Some legends even ascribe miracles to him. But the continuous press of people pushed him to seek greater solitude on Cerro del Tecolote. Friends built him a small cabin over a spring on the crest. However people continued to seek him out and he moved once more, 300 miles south to the Organ Mountains outside Las Cruces. There, too, he made friends and agreed to light a signal fire every 3rd night so they would know he was all right.

On the appointed night in mid-April, 1869 no fire was seen. A posse was formed which found Giovanni Maria, now 69, lying prostrate on the ground with a dagger in his back. They surmised he was killed while kneeling at prayer by someone who knew his habits. To this day, his memory is revered and the places made holy by his presence are reverently cared for. Twice yearly formal pilgrimages are made to the crest of Hermit’s Peak (renamed in his honor,) near Las Vegas, NM.

I found the following on the site called I Gallop On (www.igallopon.com):

Since the late 1800’s, Cerro Tecolote, just northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico has become known as Hermit’s Peak, for a mysterious Italian ex-patriate, Giovanni Agostini. This son of an Italian nobleman—who received a fine education in preparation for the priesthood—traveled from Europe to Cuba, South America, Mexico, where letters of introduction from dignitaries opened up doors into the homes of wealthy and powerful strangers. It was rumored that he’d been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, that he’d committed murder, that he was a victim of unrequited love.

At 62, he eventually made his way to Kansas, where he hooked up with a wagon train and the Romero family, politely refusing a ride in their wagons. He explained that the load he had to carry would be far too heavy for the mules, far too heavy for anyone, although he had only a small bag of books in his possession. To make his point, Agostini climbed into the seat of the wagon, and reportedly the mules refused to budge. So he walked the approximately 550 miles alongside the wagons to Las Vegas on the Santa Fe Trail. Lived for nearly five years on the peak above the town. First, in a shallow cave on the face of the mountain, eventually in a series of log huts built for him by the locals.

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~ by alexmalina on February 16, 2009.

5 Responses to “Giovanni Maria Augustini – American hermit, ascetic, mystic”

  1. Beautiful, well done! I will be exploring your marvelous and informative site further.

  2. […] bookmarks tagged bewitching Giovanni Maria Augustini – American hermit, asceti… saved by 2 others     uchihasasukekun07 bookmarked on 02/26/09 | […]

  3. I research about that hermit in South America, and here he is a popular saint, very famous…

  4. Really great post. Honestly!

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