Sanctuary of la Verna
Sanctuary of la Verna in Tuscany is along the national road which rises from Casentino or from the Tiber Valley.
You have come to this Franciscan Sanctuary along the national road which rises from Casentino or from the Tiber Valley. As you fo1lowed a section on foot in the shadow of the gigantic beech-trees, you will have come across a monument depicting Saint Francis asking a young boy to free the turtle-doves which he was taking to market. Then you will have caught sight of a small collection of robust stone buildings. The paved road which skirts these buildings leads to a wide open space called the "Quadrante". Setting out from this point it is possible to reach all the places which can be visited. This Guide proposes a complete tour by way of the Ancient Entrance.
If from the piazzale you descend eastward you will arrive at the place of the ancient entrance. The paved road which leads from the valley to the friary becomes less steep under the great flattened archway. Facing the gateway, to your left, above a long wooden seat which was the first resting-place of the wayfarers, a stone records the ancient measurements in miles of the nearest centres. On the cornice of the gateway is written in both Latin and Italian: Non est in toto sanctior orbe mons – There is in the whole world no mountain more holy. A message which justifies and rewards the strenuous effort of the climb up on foot, at the same time suggesting an attitude of respect and attentiveness.
A little further outside, on the left wall, a verse from Dante Alighieri: Nel crudo sasso intra Tevero e Arno da Cristo prese I’ultimo sigillo, che le sue membra du’anni portarno. "On the bare rough rock between the Tiber and the Arno he received from Christ the ultimate seal which his members were to bear for two years". (Paradiso XI, 106-108) These are the historical and geographical parameters of La Verna: we are between the valley of the Tiber which rises on Mount Fumaiolo 1,407 metres / 4,61 6 feet) and the valley of the Arno which has its source on Mount Falterona ( 1,654 metres / 5,427 feet). Tuo years before his death, on this mountain of gigantic rocks, Francis was signed with the wounds of the passion of Jesus Christ (l224).
An asymmetrical portico with a slate-covered roof covers the access to the ancient guest-house, to the cloisters, and the Little Church (Chiesina) of Saint Mary of the Angels. We are in the area of the first presence of the fri- ars: in this little valley Count Orlando Catani had the first brush and wooden huts made for them which, later replaced by the small friary in brick, became the nucleus of the original habitation. Numerous coats-of-arms bear witness to the families and associations which during the course of the centuries have been benefactors of La Verna. The doorway to the left, over which there is a basrelief representing Francis receiving the Stigmata, gives entry to the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels. At the side of the door is the coat-of-arms of the noble family of the Catani, the lords of Chiusi. Francis himself wanted this Chapel to be built, and after our Lady appeared to him in a vision he himself indicated its site and its measurements.
The Basilica, from its campanile or bell-tower to the start of the Corridor of the Stigmata, is surrounded by a portico of nine arches (15th and l 6th Centuries). In the right-hand wall is a niche, the work of V. Rosignoli, with the Crucified embracing St. Francis, copy in bronze of a painting by the Spanish painter Murillo. It was given to La Verna in l 888 by Pope Leo XIII, who had received it from the Franciscan tertiaries of France. It bears the marks caused by bomb-splinters from the bombardments suffered by La Verna in 1944.
The square-shaped campanile is fairly squat: it is no higher than 24 metres (79 feet). It was built in the years 1486 – 1490. It has a nice double peal of bells which on feast-days fills the Piazzale and the valleys below with joyous sound. The church, dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady, has since 1921 the title of a minor basilica. It was begun in 1348 thanks to the offerings of Count Tarlato of Pietramala and his wife Joan of S. Fiora. The friars succeeded in finishing it only in l509 with the contribution of the Arte della Lana of Florence. For almost two centuries all work had been suspended for lack of funds. Built in the shape of a Latin cross with fairly reduced lateral arms, it contains important monuments and masterpieces of art. Much of the material used in the construction of the church and campanile came from the ruins of the Chiusi castle, abandoned at the end of the l5th century.
The interior, with a single nave in the primitive tradition of Franciscan architecture, is divided by four spans with cross vaults. The second of these is decorated with the Arms of the Arte della Lana, the work of Benedetto Buglioni (1459 - 1521 The tondo of a garland of fruit and leafy branches surrounds the Paschal Lamb slain and alive which grips the banner with the cross. The symbol of Christ crucified and risen, it was chosen as being the arms of the Florentine corporation most deserving in relation to Mount La Verna. It was placed on the vault around 1495.