Sanctuary of La VernaGallery
Franciscan places are always surrounded by a somewhat mystic atmosphere, as simple as the teachings of the Saint from Assisi. It is a universal mysticism, which transcends even religious belief itself, yet concrete and extremely tangible. Upon arriving in La Verna you too will feel the wonderful positive energy that this place exhales and enjoy the peacefulness and serenity of the ancient monastery erected on Mount Penna. You will also have the chance to admire splendid works of art such as the ones by Della Robbia, whilst all around you Mother Earth will delight your eyes with the monumental forest of beech and fir trees and the intriguing ‘sasso spicco’ stone. La Verna, besides being a very important meditation place, is also - among other things - the starting point of the Cammino Francescano, the S. Francesco route, which unfolds amidst the beautiful nature of the Casentino forests. Before or after your visit to the Sanctuary of la Verna, take some time to visit the pretty village of Chiusi della Verna, overlooked by the Castle of Conte Orlando, but rich in other valuable historic buildings dating to different historic periods.
WHERE IS THE SANCTUARY OF LA VERNA. La Verna is located in the heart of Parco delle Foreste Casentinesi, in the municipality of Chiusi la Verna, 47 km from Arezzo and 85 km from Florence. Are you wondering how to get to La Verna? You have different solutions that depend on the means of transport you choose. If you want to prepare yourself for the atmosphere of La Verna, the best way is to walk from Chiusi. It is roughly a 4 km walk and consists of an ancient paved path. Along the way you can stop at Cappella degli Uccelli: it was built in front of the Turkey oak tree from which the birds flew towards San Francesco to welcome him as he arrived to what Dante described as the 'harsh rock between Tiber and Arno'. Chiusi della Verna can be reached by car from both the north and the south via the A1 motorway exiting in Arezzo, then continue along the SR71 until Rassina and then follow the signposts for Chitignano and Chiusi La Verna. From Florence you can also take Passo della Consuma and then the SR71 to Bibbiena. La Verna sanctuary can be reached directly following the curvy road that leads to the parking lot. If, in line with the Franciscan spirit, you prefer means of public transport, you can choose between train and bus. By train, catch the Arezzo-Pratovecchio-Stia trainline, get off in Bibbiena and then continue by bus to Chiusi. Otherwise, there are several buses and public lines departing from Florence and arriving in Chiusi.
LA VERNA, FIRST STOP OF THE WAY OF SAN FRANCESCO. It is an itinerary that connects many of the most important places in the life of San Francesco and is divided into various paths. The one that goes from north to south starts in La Verna and its sanctuary, and through the Tuscan steps of Pieve Santo Stefano, San Sepolcro, Citerna and the Umbrian towns of Castello, Pietralunga, Gubbio and Valfabbrica arrives in Assisi. The route of this part of the Way of Francesco is about 200 km long. We are talking about something really demanding that takes several days and a good state of physical fitness. You can, however, choose to do just one or two stages. An alternative to the Way of San Francesco and the route to Assisi is the route from La Verna santuario to the Sacred Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli. This is a not an easy journey (33km) but it crosses a wonderful natural environment that will ease fatigue and almost make you forget it.
LA VERNA HISTORY. It all began in 1213, when Orlando Catani, Count of Chiusi in Casentino, heard San Francesco preach to San Leo. He was so intrigued that he wanted to meet him, and at that point he realized that there was something he could do for him. He offered him a 'mountain' of his own property in Tuscany, suitable for those who, like him, wanted to spend a life of penance, secluded and devoted to prayer. The Saint of Assisi was pleased and immediately accepted the Count's offer. Between 1216 and 1218 the first buildings on La Verna Mount were erected, which would give rise to the monastic complex we can admire today: the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and some cells for the Franciscan friars. Francesco spent several periods of retreat but it is not known exactly when and how often he visited the convent of Verna. The only thing that is certain is that there was a 40-day period during Lent of San Michele in 1224. He was by then tired and ill but serene in knowing that his Rule had been approved by Pope Honorius IV, so much so that he had given up even to personally leading his order. During this retirement period at Verna he cultivated the desire to experience what Jesus had experienced in Easter and Resurrection. The Lord fulfilled this desire, offering him the stigma that appeared on September 14th, 1224. And this event was known by a few intimate friends whilst St. Francis was alive, and it became the centre of the sanctuary. In 1226 S. Francesco died, after which the friars who followed his rule to occupy La Verna where the first buildings were added to others such as the Stigmata Chapel erected in 1263 on the spot where the saint received the 'last seal’, The Basilica Maggiore consecrated in 1568 and the Stigmata Corridor built between 1578 and 1840.
VISIT LA VERNA: SAN FRANCESCO AND HIS PLACES. Visiting the Monastery of La Verna means first of all diving into the fascinating and evocative aura of mysticism that pervades any Franciscan site, and this is undoubtedly one of the most important ones. Upon arriving you will be captured by the buildings perched on the edge of Mount Penna, to the point that they seem to have been sculpted straight from the rocks. La Verna is a Franciscan sanctuary with many places to visit and pause for a moment of prayer, recollection or personal reflection.
LA VERNA GUESTHOUSE. Once you enter La Verna sanctuary Italy, the guest house is one of the first buildings you will see. Today, it can accommodate 105 people in single, double or triple rooms for those who want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of recollection in the hours less busy with tourists. In fact, in times of greater affluence, the Monastery can accommodate from 2,000 to 3,000 people... in these moments it is hard to cut out some time for peaceful recollection! And if you are looking for some peacefulness, I would avoid the 'Stimmate Feast' on September 17th, the most important day for Santuario La Verna. Intense and fascinating celebrations are attended by flocks of worshippers. A particularly intense event is the prayer vigil which takes place late at night, around 23:00 the day before September 17th.
CHIESA DI SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI. It was built around 1216, expanded in 1250 and consecrated in 1260. It has a unique hall and is divided by a partition. As you enter, you will be struck by the bright colours of the two reliefs at the side of the staircase: this is the 'Nativity with St. Francis and Saint Anthony' and the 'Christ in Piety between the Virgin and St. John', both works by Andrea and Luca della Robbia. Behind the altar there is another wonderful work characterized by glasswork and attributed to Luca della Robbia, which depicts 'Assunta giving the sacred belt.' Inside the Church there are also two valuable frescoes by Ferdinando Folchi representing 'Saint Francis and Saint Anthony' and the encounter between 'Saint Francis and Conte Orlando'.
THE QUADRANT. After the little church, climbing a few steps you will reach the Quadrant, the paved pavilion from which you can go to all the main places and enjoy a breath-taking panorama. On the square there is a large wooden cross at the bottom of which there is a fresh water fountain. In the past, pilgrims and visitors used the well water that the friars had built in front of the guesthouse.
BASILICA MAGGIORE. Like many of the most important places in the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna, the Basilica and its long portico overlook the Quadrante. You will also notice the tall square bell tower that reaches 24 metres of height. Inside the porch, on the right, there is a bronze statue representing a 'Crucifix that embraces St. Francis' by the sculptor Murillo, the same one who completed ‘Saint Francis and Child’ at the entrance of the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna. The Church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and was consecrated in 1568 and then renovated several times. It has a Latin cross-section, a single nave and cross vaults. Also within the Basilica Maggiore there are important works by Della Robbia, such as the reliefs in glazed terracotta, both in the chapels on the left and on the right. On the right there is also the 'Chapel of the relics' where utensils of San Francesco's everyday life are preserved such as a bowl, a tablecloth, a cup, but also his robe, a scourge and a blood-stained linen cloth he kept on his ribs. Inside the Basilica, where the most solemn celebrations are held, there is also a wonderful organ made in 1926.
STIGMATA CORRIDOR. To the right side of the basilica's portico, through a passage in the back of the convent and passing under an arch, you reach ‘Corridoio delle Stimmate’, a covered passage built between 1578 and 1582 to facilitate the procession of the 'Ninth hour' when the Franciscan monks go to the Stigmata chapel. This procession is still held today, every day at 15:00. Legend has it that during a particularly hard day, Franciscan friars skipped that custom, but found the footprints of animals along the way – since always great friends of St. Francis - who had made the procession in their place. So as to not skip this ritual it was decided to build the covered corridor. Today you can admire more than twenty frescoes that accompany the whole path and depict the life of St. Francis: 18 are by Baccio Maria Bacci and painted early in the 20th century, while three are from 1840 and are by Emanuele da Como. Along the corridor there is a small door through which you can access a small cave where the Saint rested on the naked ground. Upon entering you are bound to wonder what the net is doing right in the place where his bed was: it is there to stop souvenir-collectors from taking home a handful of the soil that had accompanied Francis's rest. Parallel to the corridor there is an external paved path through which you access the 'Sasso Spicco', the 'Stimmate Chapel' and other chapels. Sasso Spicco is a rock at the end of a gorge that divides Monte della Verna into two and seems to be by miracle in the precarious position where it can be seen, almost suspended among the rocks.
CAPPELLA DELLE STIMMATE. It is the heart of the Sanctuary and it is nice to get there as the last stop of your approach to the sacred mystery of the stigmata. It was erected in 1263 and has a single nave covered by a cross vault. A plaque is visible on the floor indicating the place where St. Francis received the stigmata. Above the door once again you can admire a work by Andrea della Robbia: this time it is a great shrine representing ‘the Crucifixion’ which depicts St. Francis and Saint Jerome.
Visit the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna, Italy! This corner of Tuscany in which you can cut out a moment to escape the hectic pace of everyday life. Do it any time of year: whether there is ‘Brother Sun', ‘Sister Water’ or ‘Brother Wind’, it will be an unforgettable experience that will fill your heart.
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