Hermit Peak in San Miguel county is named for Giovanni Maria de Agostini. He was an Italian mystic who lived as a recluse in a cave on the mountain nineteen miles from the city of Las Vegas, N.M. Known as “El Solitario” (the hermit), he was born in Italy on Dec. 25, 1802. When Agostini encountered a wagon train along the Santa Fe Trail one of the traders invited him to join their caravan. He accompanied the merchants on the trail back to Las Vegas. Upon his arrival he took up residence in a cave on a mountaintop. For three years he lived as a hermit at the summit of the Gallinas mountains. Many people say that the peak of that mountain resembles the head of a bearded man like Agostini. Today, that mountain is named Hermit Peak in his honor.
A Holy Man Comes to Town
The people of Las Vegas believed that Agostini was a holy man. In fact, several miracles that occurred in the community have been attributed to him. Agostini made such an impression on the town that Margarito Romero started an organization called the Society of the Hermit.
Word quickly traveled through the Gallinas mountains of the curative powers of the Hermit. According to one tale, the hermit’s extrasensory perception was so well developed that he often received messages from friends concerning their illnesses. Agostini would leave the mountain to comfort and heal the sick with herbs and gentle massaging. During a smallpox epidemic he nursed the sick and helped bury the dead. Many people retained childhood memories when the Hermit aided and comforted family members. Agostini lived on the mountain for three years, so many people came to believe that the mountain was blessed.
The Hermit’s Destiny
After his work was done in villages of the Gallinas Mountains, Agostini traveled south. He was headed for Mexico where he planned to work with the Indians. Along the way he took up residence in a cave in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces. He would often visit Father Baca in the village of Old Mesilla. The Hermit accepted $450 in gold from the priest that he planned to use to help the Indians in Mexico. Agostini said he would build his last fire in gratitude for the gift on the mountain that evening.
A Communal Prayer
The Hermit’s last request of Father Baca was that he and his congregation recite the rosary on the rooftops of their houses. As the community prayed no fire appeared on the mountain that night. Father Baca became worried, so the next morning he and six men ascended the mountain to check on the Hermit. To their shock and horror they found Agostini murdered, most likely for the gold that he no longer had in his possession. Since he was killed with arrows, many people believed it was the Indians who had murdered him. Giovanni Maria de Agostini was a man who provided so much hope for so many, yet his own life ended tragically.