The La Verna Sanctuary,
(Santuario della Verna) 
~ The Official Start of the Way of St. Francis

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The peaceful, secluded and phenomenal setting of the La Verna Sanctuary is a very special place where your pilgrimage on the Way of St Francis begins.

"Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility." ~ St Francis of Assisi

There is only one way to arrive at the Santuario della Verna, as the La Verna Sanctuary is called in Italian, in my opinion, and that is from the bus stop in La Beccia. Please see my introductory article for a full description of how to arrive in La Beccia by public transportation.

From the bus stop in La Beccia, it is a short and steep 650 meter walk on a pedestrian path, via the ancient entrance to the sanctuary. Of course, you can reach the sanctuary of La Verna by car, on a modern road, but it isn't half as exciting!

For your convenience, here is my map and GPS tracks of the brief walk from the bus stop in La Beccia to the sanctuary and the town of Chiusi della Verna, if you need more accommodation choices. If you are staying in Chiusi della Verna, you must stay on the bus longer, getting off at one of the stops in town, closest to your destination, as the map below shows you. 

You will see on this map, that I also located the train station in Bibbiena, in blue, and an orange X locates the Tabacchi shop where you must buy the bus tickets for the last leg from the  Bibbiena train station to the La Beccia bus stop. Again, refer to the detailed instructions in my introductory article

While I strongly encourage you to stay within the La Verna Sanctuary for the amazing experience of it, otherwise, the small town of Chiusi della Verna has a surprising amount of alternatives. Just click on the town link to see them!

In fact, my second choice which is close to the bus stop in La Beccia, is the Casa di Spiritualità La Roccia (La Roccia Spirituality House). A walk from here up to the La Verna Sanctuary would only add another 1.2 kilometers to the 15.4 kilometers of the first day.

Refer to the map for more choices as there are many to supplement the sanctuary, including some more religious choices as you would expect. 

Once you disembark from the bus in La Beccia, you can't miss the street sign by the restaurant, pointing you eastward, toward the Santuario della Verna on the Vecchia Strada Pedonale, or the Old Pedestrian Street. 

St. Francis MosaicSt. Francis Mosaic

Begin your walk through the town of La Beccia, past the restaurant. Within a few meters, you will see this lovely mosaic of St. Francis on a wall of a building, immediately reminding you of the theme of your pilgrimage. 

Leave the village and begin the ascent on the pedestrian way, through the forests of fir and beech. It is a fabulous shady walk.  

The Vecchia Strada PedonaleThe Vecchia Strada Pedonale, or Old Pedestrian Street

As you continue to walk on this lovely lane, you will soon come to an open area, where you catch your first breath-taking views of the Sanctuary of La Verna on the cliff above. Now, all you have to do is walk up to what you see!

First Glimpse of the La Verna Sanctuary on the Cliff AboveFirst Glimpse of the La Verna Sanctuary on the Cliff Above!

As you head back into the forest, frequent signs will direct you, so you cannot get lost. After about one half kilometer of walking, the strada pedonale takes a switchback at this lovely little chapel, below, built in 1602, dedicated to the flock of birds who were said to have greeted St. Francis upon his first arrival to this sacred mountain.

"And immediately flocks of birds gathered around them, testifying their joy by songs and flutterings of their wings. Hovering around Francis, they alighted on his head, his shoulders, or his arms. 'I see,' he said joyfully to his companions, 'that it is pleasing to our Lord Jesus that we live in this solitary mount, since our brothers and sisters the birds have shown such great delight at our coming.' " (The Complete Francis of Assisi, pp 189-90.)

Below at the chapel, left to right is Amanuel, a brand new acquaintance from the bus ride, my husband, Rich and Nick, a virtual friend that we hooked up with for the first time for this walk. 

Switchback at Chapel of the Birds, Capella degli UccelliPilgrimage Travelers at the Chapel of the Birds, Capella degli Uccelli

In a few more meters we approach the sanctuary wall with another switchback.  You can just make out the prominent, yet simple cross, that juts above the main plaza of the sanctuary, the Piazzale del Quadrante.

Switchback at Medieval Wall of the SanctuarySwitchback at Medieval Wall of the Sanctuary

After the steep switchback, you will see up the hill on the Old Pedestrian street, the brown sign that welcomes you to La Verna. The pedestrian way continues up this hill with a small chapel at the top. 

Reaching the Sanctuary Gate

However, before the signs, you will see a tunnel on your left that takes you through the wall, and up a ramp to the other side. This is the ancient gate to the sanctuary.

Enter Sanctuary Through ArchwayEnter Sanctuary Through Archway

La Verna Sanctuary 

The ramp leads you up and onto the grand plaza, the Piazzale del Quadrante or the Sundial Plaza, named for the sundial engraved into the bell tower. It is a extraordinary place! Pinch open the panoramic photo below to soak in the details. When photographing this place, no angles seemed to give it justice. 

Panorama from the Main Plaza, La Verna SanctuaryPanorama from the Main Plaza, La Verna Sanctuary

Here is a close-up view from the wall of the Piazzale, looking back down at the ancient gate and the hill, with leaves just beginning to turn color in early October. Beautiful!

Looking at the Ancient Gateway from the Piazzale AboveLooking at the Ancient Gateway from the Piazzale Above

The views of the hills below the La Verna sanctuary are breathtaking, and as you will see farther below, the most amazing place for sunset/sunrise. 

Overlook from the Piazzale del QuadranteOverlook from the Piazzale del Quadrante, the Sundial Plaza.

And at this most holy place, with a blanket of reverence covering it, the crowning center is the main Basilica of the Santuario della Verna built in 1509, shown below, with its bell tower. The bells ring here frequently, calling the faithful to the various services offered. 

Basilica, Santuario della VernaBasilica, Santuario della Verna

The interior of the basilica is appropriately simple, but filled with the glazed terracotta carvings from the famous Della Robbia family from the 15th century. The only ones I have pictured from the basilica is on either side of the altar, shown below, is a carving of St Francis carrying a cross on the left, and St Anthony, an abbot on the right. Click on the link in this paragraph for photos of them all. 

Basilica Interior, Santuario della VernaBasilica Interior, La Verna Sanctuary

The basilica also contains the Relics Chapel, the Cappella delle Reliquie, where several items belonging to the saint are kept, including a habit, a bowl, some rope, an iron whip for self-flagellation and a linen cloth which he used to dress a wound, containing his blood. 

To the south of the Basilica, is the little chapel with a portico called the Cappella di Santa Maria degli Angeli, which you pass by after entering from the ancient gate. You can see the little chapel in the panoramic photo above, just to the left of the well.

This plain and simple chapel was originally founded by St Francis himself in 1218 on a site where he was visited by the Virgin Mary. This structure is the oldest structure at La Verna, and was born from a hut made of branches when St. Francis first meditated at this location. 

The terracotta carvings on the entryway were done by Giovanni Della Robbia, depicting the nativity on the left and the descent of Christ from the cross into the tomb, on the right. 

In the center of the photo below, is the altarpiece terracotta, by Andrea Della Robbia, depicting the Assumption of Mary. 

Cappella di Santa Maria degli AngeliCappella di Santa Maria degli Angeli

In the early morning of our first day's pilgrimage, I found peace and comfort here, before the first light of the day. I was anxious for the day, and crept out of the dormitory early, to spend time alone here in this most undisturbed place. I am always blessed by the presence of the Divine Feminine. 

But the crowning glory and most revered of the spaces of the La Verna Sanctuary is the famous chapel, situated on the exact site where St Francis received the stigmata. This chapel is reached through a corridor from the western side of Piazzale, shown below. However, this is the exterior of the sacred corridor. The chapel is reached through the interior corridor, not pictured. 

Corridor of the StigmataExterior View of the Corridor of the Stigmata

The Cappella Delle Sacre Stimmata, or the Chapel of the Sacred Stigmata, built in 1263, is elegantly simple, with glazed terracotta carvings from Andrea Della Robbia that were installed in 1481.

The hexagonal frame on the floor, with a glass-orb center, is the exact spot where St. Francis received the markings of the crucifixion, given to him by a winged seraph, in a crucified position, as the story goes. This chapel sits at the precipice of the cliff, and is the building most visible from the valley floor below, on the far left of the cliff photo above. 

Cappella Delle Sacre Stimmata, Santuario della VernaCappella Delle Sacre Stimmata, Santuario della Verna

Spend some time here in reflection and meditation. It is a powerful place. 

From the exterior of the Stigmata Corridor, pictured above, and from the south side you can access another special feature of La Verna, the Sasso Spicco or split rock. A stairway, shown below, leads you down deep into the cool and damp crevasse, a favorite place of meditation for St. Frances. 

Stairway to the Sasso SpicoStairway to the Sasso Spico

Here is the overhanging rock, that defines the space that is the Sasso Spicco, where a cross marks the sacred meditation area. This area also has a most calming effect on one's body, mind and soul. 

Sasso SpiccoSasso Spicco, Meditation Area of St Francis

And from the interior of the Corridoio della Stimmata (Stigmata Corridor) on the north side, another path leads you to the grotto shown below, and the Letto di San Francesco, or the bed of St. Francis, where he would sleep in the cave. 

Entrance to the Letto di San FrancescoRich at the Entrance to the Letto di San Francesco

And finally, to get to the gift shop and the reception area to check-in for the night, you must find this passageway, around the back and to the north of the sanctuary.

If you are exiting the basilica, you will turn to the right and see this "exit" or uscita as the sign denotes, to your right. It is under the archway, opposite the Stigmata Corridor. 

Northern Passageway from the BasilicaNorthern Passageway from the Basilica, Santuario della Verna

The sign also says it is to the parking area, and yes, that's the case. But on the way you will go through another tunnel, by the gift shop. Come to the first parking area, turn right and go through yet another tunnel. Yes - it is quite the maze!

On the other side of the final tunnel, look to your right and you will see the "Portineria" or concierge above the doorway at the bottom of the ramp. 

You will also see a sign that says "Reffetorio del Pellegrino" or the pilgrim's refectory (dining hall) and Accoglienza Ristoro or Reception/Refreshment. Go into this entryway and you will see the desk where you will register for the night. 

We purchased the pilgrim package of a dormitory bed, plus dinner and breakfast for 35 Euros each. The meals are the most basic of meals, but the price was right. For breakfast there was only coffee and pre-packaged toast and cookies. Come prepared if your desire exceeds this offering. 

Below is an inner courtyard for one of the guest areas, where you can book hotel-like accommodation. It looks just lovely, but we desired to hang with the five pilgrims checked into the sanctuary that first night of the pilgrimage. 

Interior Courtyard of GuesthouseInterior Courtyard of Guesthouse, La Foresteria

And the concierge will show you to the pilgrim's dormitory, which is very difficult to find on your own, I thought. It has 13 available beds, pillows with cases and blankets are supplied, but no linens. There is a single bathroom adjacent to this room, but if you look at the map I provided, just a short distance away is another toilet, with showers by the Santa Maria degli Angeli chapel. Please click this link to see the accommodation choices and the current prices. 

Pilgrim's DormitoryPilgrim's Dormitory

For your convenience, I have included this very nice map of the La Verna Sanctuary that you are given at the reception, along with meal times and a welcome letter giving you details of the history of the place.

The welcome letter also instructs you when/where to receive a pilgrim's blessing from one of the monks, if you desire, with similar words as St Francis would have given for his friend and companion, Brother Leo so many centuries ago!

Map of the Sacred Mountain of La VernaMap of the Sacred Mountain of Il Santuario della Verna

Every day at 07:55, just before the hour of breakfast, you can receive this pilgrim's blessing in the main basilica, immediately following the morning, 7:00 a.m. mass. 

And as evening fell on the first day of our pilgrimage, the low light was brilliant as the bell tower rang, breaking the intense tranquility of the place, summoning the faithful to Vespers. I managed to capture a single monk, rushing at the last minute to the basilica. 

Answering the Call to Vespers at AlpenglowAnswering the Call to Vespers at Eventide

And thank goodness, the Santuario is Catholic, and not conservative Protestant (like I was raised), because we could purchase a bottle of wine at the Pilgrim's Refectory where there is a bar! Refreshments indeed!

Here we are, the happy pilgrimage travelers, enjoying a toast as the daylight was beginning to fade, but our anticipation for the pilgrimage was not!

Starting from the left, Amanuel, Yours Truly, Rich and Nick, enjoying the wine and the amazing view over the Apennine mountains. Salute, cin, cin! (pronouned as cheen, cheen!)

Happy Pilgrims Toast the Beginning of the JourneyHappy Pilgrim's Toast to the Beginning of the Journey

And we were bequeathed with the most amazing of sunsets from the heights of the La Verna Sanctuary, by the cross in the Piazzale, from that very spot in which we cheered the start of our pilgrimage. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. 

Sunset at the La Verna CrossSunset at the La Verna Cross, Santuario della Verna

Salutation

May you begin your own pilgrimage from the La Verna Sanctuary with humility, and give thanks for your health, and to this most marvelous place, that offers extraordinary blessings to God and to you!


And the Journey Continues:


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