“If you dare nothing,Neil Gaiman
then when the day is over,
nothing is all you will have gained.”
Last Sunday we had one of our toughest days of hiking, ever.
But the ending was…magical.
We left at about 8:00 am because we knew it was going to be hot and the guidebook classified the day as “hard” and predicted it would take seven and a half hours. Laurie and I were accompanied by our friend, Bjarne, a German University student we had connected with early on in this journey.
We quickly climbed out of the town of Badia Prataglia and began ascending the first hill. Over the day we would climb two main hills, with a total ascent of 1029 meters (3380 feet) over a track of 17.4 km (10.8 miles). Some of it was through forested paths but much of it was on rocky slopes and the day was hot. At one point Laurie wished that the Italians were more familiar with the concept of switchbacks on steep trails.
But a few kilometers short of our destination, we broke into this mossy forest that seemed, magical. We could understand why Saint Francis loved this area specifically. At one point we stopped next to a cave that descended into the ground and paused, because it was exhaling cool air that was a relief after many hours on the hot trail.
Then we came around the corner and perched up high on the rocks above us were the walls of Santuario Della Verna, one of the most holy sites in this lovely country. Laurie looked up and pondered the potential of an escalator. Unfortunately not—we still had to climb the steep path to the top.
Francis and his followers loved the area and we can understand why after spending an afternoon there. Over 800 years ago Count Orlando of Chiusi gifted the site to the saint. Although most of the buildings were built after his time, there are many places where he is said to have slept, prayed, and…received the stigmata…wounds in his hands, feet, and side that resembled those of Christ.
The “modern” complex is dominated by a basilica built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The robe of the saint and one of his walking sticks are on display. It contains numerous chapels, frescoes, and quiet places. While there were many people there, it was still a place of peace.
The three of us were able to stay in quarters on the grounds and enjoy a pilgrim dinner. The next morning before departing we went to a prayer service led by the Franciscan monks, which ended with a blessing for us and the other pilgrims present.
It was a hard day of hiking. But it led to one of the most memorable stops on this month long walk.
If you’d like to learn more about St Francis we recommend the novel, Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. It’s about a pastor of a mega-church who faces a crisis of faith. Wraps the true story of the Saint in a though provoking tale. The audio edition is great.
Read more about the sanctuary at Discover Tuscany