Giovanni Maria de Agostini, Travelling Hermit
David G. Thomas “Giovanni Maria de Agostini, Wonder of the Century: The Astonishing World Traveler Who Was A Hermit” (Mesilla Valley History Series Book 2) [Doc 45 Publishing, 2014]
“This book is about a remarkable man, Giovanni Maria de Agostini, born in Italy in 1801, who combined two seemingly contradictory aspirations: a fervent desire to devote his whole life to “perfect solitude” and an astonishing urge to travel incessantly.
As his decisions and actions emerge from the lightless silence – the time-covered past – a unifying purpose becomes evident.
Following extensive travel in Europe, Agostini takes vows revocable only by formal dispensation from the Pope. He immediately leaves forever his “beloved Italy” for South America. Twenty-one years he spends traversing that, at the time, greatly unexplored continent, visiting Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile – and so doing multiple times. During this spectacular solo Odyssey, he survives a trip down the Amazon River by canoe, crosses the Alps by foot several times, walks vast distances, and endures living alone in scalding deserts and subzero mountains. In spite of oppressive and infuriating obstacles, including death threats, unjust arrest, deportation, jail, and forced confinement in a mental asylum, Agostini persists undeterred in the solemn goal he set for himself when he left Europe.
Seeking change and another continent, Agostini leaves South America for Mexico, passing through Panama and Guatemala, and then Mexico for North America, passing through Cuba. In Cuba, he is hailed as an extraordinary adventurer, his photograph is taken, and he is proclaimed “The Wonder of Our Century.” After arrival in New York, he walks to Canada, where he spends almost a year, then “goes west,” eventually reaching, in the midst of the American Civil War, the Territory of New Mexico, where he meets his merciless fate.
Agostini is remembered in many places — in South America as Monge João Maria, in North America as Ermitaño Don Juan Agostini; however his life story is encrusted with myth and false fact. As the veritable events of his life are unveiled, a man of fascinating originality, prodigious endurance, intelligence, self-discipline, and self-sufficiency, infused with an indomitable spirit of adventure, emerges.
Today in Argentina, as many as 15,000 people participate in a yearly festival initiated by Agostini at Cerro Monje, “Monk’s Hill.” In Brazil, at Cerro Campestre, “Campestre Hill,” and Santo Cerro do Botucaraí, “Holy Hill of Botucaraí,” over 10,000 people celebrate annual events founded by Agostini. In Lapa, Brazil, a national park protects the pilgrimage route to Gruta do Monge, “Monk’s Grotto.” At Araçoiaba Hill, near Sorocaba, Brazil, the Trilha da Pedra Santa, “Trail of the Holy Rock,” is climbed annually by thousands of people desiring to pay respect to the memory of the Monge do Ipanema, the “Monk of Ipanema.”
These are just a few examples of Agostini’s cultural legacy, 145 years after his death.”
“Perhaps the mostly widely recognized landmark in the Las Vegas area, Hermit’s Peak looms over the surrounding plains at 10,263 feet. You may remember it from a scene in the movie “Red Dawn”, which was filmed nearby (the 1984 version, not the remake). It’s worth noting that “Red Dawn” stars the late Patrick Swayze who later returned and bought a ranch just a few miles from the mountain.
Over the years Hermit’s Peak and it’s sole resident, Juan Maria d’Agostini, have become an important part of the local culture. The mountain was known to the early Spanish settlers as “El Cerro del Tecolote”, or the Hill of the Owl. That changed when an unusual figure came to the area in the 1860s. He was described as a short and thin man with a brown eyes and a gaunt face. He wore a long dark cape and leaned on a walking staff. The local residents had never seen anyone so striking and mysterious. They called him “El Ermitano”, the Hermit.
Born in northern Italy in 1801, Giovanni Maria de Agostini came from a wealthy family. He studied Latin, French, and theology before taking the vow of Saint Anthony the Abbot. He then dedicated himself to a Monastic life of poverty, austerity and virtue. After traveling around in Europe he set out for South America, landing in Caracas, Venezuela in 1839. In South and Central America he traveled from Venezuela to Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico. In 1861 he journeyed to North America and arrived in New York City. Except for voyages which required boats, his only mode of transportation was by foot. From New York he walked up to Canada, and then down to Kansas.
Agostini found his way to Las Vegas, New Mexico accompanying a wagon train from Council Grove, Kansas along the Santa Fe Trail in 1863. When offered a ride on one of the wagons he said that he preferred to walk, and asked only for some cornmeal mush to nourish himself. By this time he went by the name Juan Maria d’Agostini. But to the religious settlers of early Las Vegas he was simply “the Hermit”. Due to his appearance and wise demeanor he was perceived of as a holy man, a healer and a miracle worker. He claimed to be none of these things. Nonetheless, throngs of locals collected wherever he resided, seeking counsel, healing and miracles.
Eventually d’Agostini set his sights on the 10,263 foot mountain, where he finally found the solitude he longed for in a cave near the summit.”
See also: http://grupogaaiablog.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/morro-botucarai-verdadeira-historia-do.html