History and legends: this was probably the first place where Pietro Angelerio lived as a hermit, before taking his vows. It was here that the future Pope Celestine V, having reached the Majella, stopped in a cave (the so-called Taverna) and began life as a hermit proper, between 1235 and 1238. The building was constructed by the Celestines around the 14th century to immortalise, in all probability, the memory of the first hermitic residence of their founder, Pietro dal Morrone, who became pope with the name of Celestine V. The true significance of the dedication of the sanctuary to Our Lady of the Altar is unknown. It can be assumed that the title derives from the morphology of the place, which recalls the shape of an altar; in any case, the term is also used for other sites on the Majella, such as Cima d’Altare and Altare dello Stincone. With the suppression of religious orders in 1807, the convent came into the possession of the Perticone barons, who made it the family’s summer residence. Later, a lay hermit took refuge there. During the last war it was turned into a prison by the German army and in 1970 it was donated to the municipality of Palena
Rites and events
The hermitage can be reached by taking an easy road before the Forchetta pass, but the people, especially for the pilgrimage on 2 July, the feast day of the Madonna dell’Altare, prefer to choose paths through the woods that better represent the condition of the penitent pilgrim. The Sanctuary, closed during the winter months since 21 November, is reopened on Whitsun with a solemn liturgical service attended by numerous pilgrims. Our Lady of the Altar is celebrated on 2 July and, in accordance with the Marian cult, on 12 September with a rite that retains many aspects of pastoral culture. Another occasion to visit the sanctuary is on the Sunday following the Feast of St Falco, the hermit and exorcist Saint, whose body is kept in the town’s parish church to celebrate the liturgical service in honour of the Saint of the possessed.