‘Wonder of the Century’

Hermit who traveled world by foot honored at festival


When Giovanni Maria de Agostini was found murdered near his cave at La Cueva at the foot of the Organ Mountains on May 2, 1869, a compelling story abruptly ended.

Found with his meager possessions, including two journal-type books with religious writings, crosses, and other small accoutrements, it seemed clear he was not killed by robbers. The mystery remains –perhaps angry Indians, perhaps a political move, or something entirely different. In the end, what mattered was that this Italian adventurer and Christian leader was no more.

Agostini, born in 1801, traveled the world by foot as a Maronite Christian, according to historian and author David G. Thomas.

He was kicked out of Mexico, where he lived in a cave on the mountain with about 100,000 followers, because the government, afraid he was political, declared him insane and deported to Cuba, Thomas said. Agostini faced the Inquisition in Chile for being a “priest in posture” because he was a Maronite and there weren’t any in South America.

From Chile, Agostini traveled to New York and then to Canada, where they shunned him. He traveled down the Mississippi river by canoe in the Civil War years. Moving down through the continental U.S., he crossed through both Union and Confederate territories, having papers from both sides.

Arriving in Las Vegas, N.M. in 1863, he founded a religious community there (following communities he had founded in Brazil and Argentina) called the Society of the Hermit. Hermit’s Peak is named after him, and the community would climb to the top yearly for many years after he was gone.

Thomas and a group of historians, known as the Friends of Pat Garrett, have chosen to feature Agostini during their annual festival, held Feb. 24 and 25 this year at the Ro Grande Theatre. The Hermit of La Cueva Festival includes a musical presentation by Crow and Karla, featuring Karla Steen and Sweet Mary Hattersley, which begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

At 6 p.m. “The Wonder of the Century (A Maravilha Do Seculo),” a documentary about the hermit, will be shown. Following the movie, Agostini (portrayed by an actor) will appear in person to answer questions from the audience.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. the film will be repeated and “Agostini” will give an interview and answer questions again.

The ticket price is $14, which is good for entry into all events, both days. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at the Rio Grande Theatre web site: riograndetheatre.org.

Hermit, Giovanni Maria de Agostini, La Cueva