The rebirth of the Hermitages of Córdoba

The Hermitages close the horizon of Córdoba, as Gala wrote remembering her childhood: “It was the high, the white and the far”. They are the beacon at night that guides the people of Cordoba in the dark; the enormous figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus arises from the earth, it does not fall, it rises. But there was a time, during the second half of the 20th century, when the Hermitages lost their splendour: the hermits disappeared, the people of Cordoba turned their backs on their Sierra, and even nature took its punishment twice, two lightning bolts struck the statue of the imposing Christ -the last of them beheaded him in 1972-. With the passage of time, the Hermitages have returned to being “in fashion”, a full-fledged resurrection that will be consummated when the last of the 13 hermitages that are still standing inside the Cerro de la Cárcel is recovered.

The recent approval, by the Local Government Board, of an item of 30,000 euros from the municipal budget for the restoration of the Hermitage of San Matías means the culmination of a history of almost 40 years of effort that the Amigos de las Ermitas association treasures, established in 1983, to preserve the heritage of the hermitage through the permanent conservation and restoration of this historical complex, property of the community of the Discalced Carmelites.

Since then, seeing the gradual deteriorationthe association has undertaken the restoration of 12 of the 14 original Cordovan hermitages (with the exception of San Matías and Santo Tomás, demolished in 1929 when building the Sacred Heart).

“The 13 hermitages were literally on the ground,” the current president of the Friends of the Hermitages of Córdoba, Juan Manuel Fernández, recalls the image. Sometimes with the help of private capital and many others through public subsidies, for example with the restoration of the hermitages of San Pablo or San Felipe, they have been rising again. “That the City Council, as representative of the people of Córdoba, wants to put its grain of sand in that last hermitage gives us a lot of emotion. I think it is a fantastic gesture, in support of the heritage of Córdoba”, he points out.

The last restoration (San Mateo, in 2012) was assumed by the Friends of the Hermitages. At the moment the performance ends, the group begins to propose the recovery of San Matías, although between one thing and another a decade ends up passing. During these last years, the work of the association has consisted of preserving the enclosure, maintaining the space of the main house -“which was very bad”-, changing the lighting, giving a coat of paint to all the hermitages, ensuring the Camino de los Cipreses, or create a firewall around the enclosure. “Here it does not stop, this is an old house“says the president.

Despite the help of the Consistory, the total budget for the rehabilitation amounts to an amount greater than 60,000 euros, which the Friends of the Hermitages face. With a payroll of more than 1,500 members (currently they pay about 10 euros a year), “we are ready,” says Fernández. The strength of the association lies in the quota occupied by the youth section, called Juventud Protectora, with 258 members. It is a good example of the great state of health enjoyed by the Friends of the Hermitages, modernized to the maximum with a complete Web pagefrequent activity on their social networks and even their own application for mobile devices.

The restoration of San Matías, located in the northern area of ​​the hermitage complex, has been prepared “with great affection”, says the president of the association. The architect Víctor Díaz Huerta has intervened in the project, with the idea of ​​preserving, as far as possible, all the original materials: “We will try to be very faithful in the restoration of the original hermitage and we will try to recover some wooden element that has been replaced on other occasions. It’s going to be beautiful: a very detailed restoration.”

Once the last restoration is finished, the Friends of the Hermitages will turn their dedication to the firefighting, where the main concern of the partners lies, and even more so after the fire declared in the Sierra de Córdoba in mid-July 2022.

“Hermitages are fashionable”

The future of the Hermitages is armored after the Provincial Heritage Commission gave the go-ahead, last June, to its registration in the General Catalog of Andalusian Historical Heritage as Well of Cultural Interest (BIC) with Monument category. According to the agreement, it is intended to protect from any action that could endanger all ethnological, landscape, historical and artistic values that converge in the Hermitages, in addition to bringing them closer to the public, thus favoring their conservation.

“The declaration as BIC means that the city continues to be committed to the Hermitages and the institutions as well”, reflects Juan Manuel Fernández. The recovery of the complex by the Friends of the Hermitages and his openness to give to meet the Cordovan and the tourist hermit lifestyles They have resignified the place, granting it a representative social value for the citizens of Córdoba: “We are lucky that our city has a spiritual space like this mountain range”.

The presence of hermits in the Sierra de Córdoba has its origin by some writers from late third century. A way of life imported by the Cordovan Bishop Osio, who would place Córdoba as the European cradle of hermit life, assures Juan Manuel Fernández, although until the 9th century, in times of San Eulogio de Córdoba, the fact is not mentioned that many Cordovans, fleeing from the Saracen persecution, secluded themselves in the Córdoba mountains leading a life of hermit, based on the renunciation of social life and retirement lonely.

The hermits went from inhabiting isolated caves that were difficult to access in the foothills of the mountains, without agreement among themselves, to congregating in a brotherhood and establishing their own constitution when the City Council of Córdoba granted them, in 1703, possession of the summit of the Cerro de la Cárcel, also known as Cerro de las Víboras. In six years, the church, the 13 hermitages and the fence of the Desert are built, which since then has been called Our Lady of Bethlehem.

They remained there uninterruptedly for 254 years (except for the nine that Mendizábal Confiscation lasted, from 1836 to 1845), and until 1957, the year in which the Congregation was extinguished due to lack of vocations, joining the Order of Discalced Carmelites ever since. the hermit brother Peter of Christwho coincidentally lived in the hermitage of San Matías that will now complete the range of restorations, “is the key figure that saves the hermitages of Cordoba during the period that the expulsion lasted because he defends that it was not subject to any religious order,” explains Fernández.

In addition to its inexorable spirituality, the sum of the location that the Hermitages have – a balcony in the mountains with views of the city of Córdoba, the countryside and the Vega del Guadalquivir-, together with the reference to the Sacred Heart of Jesus since 1929, end up marking the “charism of the place”.

“Hermitages are very fashionable”Fernandez celebrates. Currently they not only stick to their religious character, they have also become a space for cultural and sports pilgrimage, and have been uncovered as a tourist attraction. For this reason, it is no coincidence that the City Council has launched the arrangement of the Cuesta del Reventón to recover the original path and make it easier for pilgrims who did not dare to climb before. “The road is more passable,” says the president of the association.

The jugs are filled with water again at the entrance and the Inn will reopen in October after being closed due to the pandemic. However, the Carmelite priests ordained in the Hermitages no longer inhabit them. “The Hermitages are hard, it is cold in winter and hot in summer. The houses are not prepared and the decision was made to go down to San Cayetano,” explains Fernández. Instead, some couples and singles from the Secular order, also belonging to the Discalced Carmelites, are the ones who have stopped with their spirituality and who are in charge of clearing, watering the orchards and caring for pilgrims. “It doesn’t affect anything,” he maintains.

The last Sunday of each month there is always free guided tours. “There is no week that a new history or legend of the Hermitages is not discovered”, says the president of the association. Some are published in books or television archives, others are in the study phase and many are still unknown.

For the memory, when José Álvarez Reedbed (Paco Raval) confessed to Father Camprecios (Fernando Fernan-Gomez), sitting in the Bishop’s chair, everything he knew and suspected about him: That he was a ruined bullfighter and a cynic, who abandoned his family and returned to Córdoba decades later to suck his blood. What the priest ignored was the loneliness and the fear that Juncal had of being old and not finding anyone who loved him, except a shoe shiner from Lucent (Rafael Álvarez, The Wizard), “blessed be his soul”.

The rebirth of the Hermitages of Córdoba