There is an old pharmacy in Camaldoli that is full of stills, ovens, glass and ceramic vases, mortars, herbariums, and recipe books. It is a place of charity and quiet with a history dating back to 1046, when the Camaldolese monks built a hospital in these woody Tuscan hills for the poor and ill people from the nearby towns.
Dante described this area of the Apennine between Tuscany and Romagna – where Saint Romuald founded a monastery at the very beginning of the 11th century – in his “Divine Comedy” (Purgatory, fifth canto, 94-96): “[A]t Casentino’s foot / A stream there courseth, nam’d Archiano, sprung / In Apennine above the Hermit’s seat”.
On top of the hermit mentioned by Dante, the presence of the Ravenna-born monk and his followers gave rise to a church – three kilometers down along the Archiano River –, a hospital and its adjoining pharmacy, which has remained active to this day.
The monks’ efforts blossomed in a world of quiet and daily prayer. His most important biographer – Saint Peter Damian – summed up Saint Romuald’s way of life, “He prayed and fasted, in silence, in the company of the devout followers he taught not with words, but by example”.
With very little need for words, Romuald, and the monks who settled in Camaldoli’s monastery after his death, started a tradition of hard-working charity that is still alive today. Romuald’s advice to his monks was, “Sit in your cell as if you were in Heaven, forget about the world and leave it behind”.
Obeying his teachings, his followers created things of incredible beauty – perhaps without ever realizing it.