There are actually two caves. The first one, in front of the entry of the hermitage, was once used as a refectory for the monks and subsequently turned into a deposit of grain. The second cave was called Grotta della Goccia ("the Cave of the Drop") because of a popular belief that attributes miraculous powers to the dripping water from the vault of the cavern. (The dripping has now almost permanently ceased.)
This cave contained inside an artistic tabernacle with terracotta statues representing the Virgin Mary between two saints. The statue of the Madonna di Rupecava from the year 1326 by Andrea Pisano, is today situated in the church of Ripafratta.
Between two huge rock outcrops a chapel of moderate size was built (see photos above) and dedicated to Santa Maria ad Martires (St Mary of the Martyrs). It is now quite derelict and dangerous to enter; however, traces of a fresco dating back to the sixteenth century are still visible there.
There is archaeological evidence that two hermitage buildings were situated near the church. It can be expected, here as well as in other originally cave-dwelling hermitages, that as soon as numbers increased to only to as many as four or five permanent members (or a new member was a priest), buildings had to be erected outside the caves, and the original cave changed from being living quarters possibly into becoming exclusively a chapel or a “hermitage within the hermitage” – an inner sanctum.
(Continued on the next page.)