The news of the fire at Hermit’s peak near Las Vegas, N.M, brings back memories of a different time. The mountain peak once called El Cerro del Tecolote took on a new life with the arrival of a holy man. During the springtime of 1867 the summit of the Gallinas Mountains became Hermit’s Peak. That was the year that a religious nomad from Italy took up residency on the mountain top. His name was Giovanni María Agostino. In New Mexico he became known as El Solitario, or “the Hermit.” Agostino was born in Italy on Dec. 25, 1802. He traveled from Italy through South and Central America to New Orleans.
Traveling Along the Santa Fe Trail
Agostino met Miguel Romero a Las Vegas merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. He accompanied Romero’s caravan back to Las Vegas. When he arrived Agostino he took up residence on a mountaintop. The people of Las Vegas considered him a holy man and several miracles were attributed to him. He made such an impression on the town that an organization called the Society of the Hermit was formed. The Penitentes climbed to the top of the mountain in the spring and fall to visit the saintly hermit. Many people from the surrounding villages believed that he was a holy man who could cure the sick. As word grew countless bands of pilgrims traveled to the hermitage each year.
The Power of Healing
The hermit’s extrasensory perception allowed him to receive messages from friends concerning their illnesses. Agostino would descend the peak to comfort and heal them with herbs and gentle massaging. One experience that many people remembered was the epidemic of smallpox. The hermit descended the mountain peak to help nurse the sick and bury the dead. His tireless, gentle, thin hands and deep-set, comforting dark eyes sustained the sufferers, who lived to tell of the epidemic to their children. The grateful villagers fed the hermit and provided him with food to get him through the winter. In exchange, Agostino gave them small wooden crucifixes that he whittled from the mountain trees.
Uncertainty of Life
On one occasion, Agostino instructed his friends to help him down a tree. The tree was then placed over an abyss that was 2,000 feet deep. He explained to them, “I want to walk across the abyss periodically, to remind myself of the uncertainty of this life.” The recent news of the fire at Hermit’s Peak reminds us of life’s continued precariousness back in the time of the Hermit and today.