Tuesday, April 12, 2011

St. Francis' Sanctuary of La Verna

When thinking of St. Francis, naturally Assisi (his birth place, his resting place, and his main sort-of headquarters for a long time) is the first place associated with him. But pre-tiring here in northern Umbria and traveling around a lot has made me realize (even more so than when I was reading the Marvel Comics Life of St. Francis) that he got around this whole area quite a bit, and that there are more spots than just Assisi that seem Francis-ized. Perhaps tops on this list is the Sanctuary of La Verna, which we visited last week. The Sanctuary is way, way, way up in the east Tuscan hills, even higher than the mountain which gave Michelangelo the inspiration and foundation for the painting the Creation of Adam (the big M is from just down the road from La Verna):
The Sanctuary’s story goes back to 1213, when St. Francis was roaming around, meeting people and animals and speaking. At a particular spot there was a feast happening, and some merriment, and he stopped by to talk to people and in his intense way impressed a Count Orlando Catani, who was a guest at the feast and who asked St. Francis for a little more conversation. St. Francis (who was a gentleman as well as holy) told him to “honor the friends who invited you for the feast and dine with them,” and then we'll talk. After the talk the Count (who was struck by St. Francis—natch) offered the Mount of La Vernia, a wild solitary spot, to St. Francis for whenever he needed to get away from the crowds. St. Francis loved this idea, and ended up spending some of each year there, and it’s where he received the stigmata, among other things. Today, the mountain is still fairly wild, as a national park encircles the Sanctuary, and very craggy and wooded. There’s a restaurant (and gift shop—can’t have a Sanctuary without one of those), but also a convent and monastery, and  as we walked from the restaurant to the various chapels we had some friendly companions:
There is a large church, but also many small chapels, and a long hallway with modern frescos leading to various St. Francis historic spots, all built within trees and mountains:
You can duck into one particularly lovely ravine, take a right, and even see the cave which holds the stone St. Francis slept on (it’s pretty dark and cold, I have to say. St. Francis was tougher than I):
There are numerous small chapels, some dedicated to St. Francis, some to other saints, tucked in here and there, though the largest (chapel, that is—there’s a larger church) is probably the Chapel of the Stigmata, where the stone that St. Francis was one when he received said stigmata is on display:
The Sanctuary, in various chapels and churches, also displays an incredible array of glazed terracotta by Andrea della Robbia. I’m a pretty fan (as I’ve mentioned here once or twice) of the della Robbias, so it was a fantastic balance to see many within such a natural setting. It just made for an interesting juxtaposition, the shiny terracotta inside:
and then right outside the vast view:
The chapels and walks wind through the rocks and mountains and even deeper into the park—we walked around for a good hour and didn’t nearly see all. You can, perhaps, sense more of what St. Francis was about here than in Assisi, though Assisi is more monumental and a not-to-be-missed art and architecture spot. Even within the wood and wild though, you can’t get away from modernity for long. Which was lucky for one particular monk, who needed to make a quick call:
If you’re interested in St. Francis, incredible scenery, or della Robbia terracotta, then I suggest you follow St. Francis up, up, up the hill the next time you’re in the area (and think about, as you corner the curves in a car, how long the walk must have been).

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting information and thank you for your time to post it here. In my next visit to Italy I would definitely visit Mount La Verna. I would also like to know more about Saint Orlando Catanii.Where will I find more about his life.
    Thank you