the donation of the mount della verna
In 1213 the Castle was owned by the Messer – Count – Orlando Catani. St Francis and the Messer met in San Leo, in Montefeltro. On this occasion, the Messer was impressed by the preaching of the friar and wanted to give him the gift of the mountain of La Verna, which became the place of numerous and prolonged periods of retreat.
«I have in Tuscany a very devout mountain which is called Mount della Verna, which is very solitary and wild and is so well suited to those who want to experience penance, away from the people, or for those who want to live alone. If you like it, I would gladly give it to you and your companions for the sake of my soul»
(Messer –Conte- Orlando Cattani of Chiusi della Verna before donating the mountain to St. Francis from Assisi, 1213)
Learn more about the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna, the places of life and prayer of St. Francis from Assisi and the artworks.
the source of san francesco
The story goes that St Francis “one day wanted to go to the hermitage, to freely devote himself to contemplation”. This hermitage was identified with Verna by Bartolomeo da Pisa. It was summer, St Francis was very weak and got help from a poor farmer to ride his donkey from Sarna to the Verna, passing through the ancient path running along the edge of Stabarsicci and the Fognano hill, between the villages of Dama and Fognano.
It was very hot; the donkey and the farmer could not take it anymore.
Suddenly the donkey stopped, and the farmer laid down on the ground. “I wish there was at least some water!” The farmer exclaimed, but there was not water. St. Francis descended from the donkey, without losing heart. He approached a large rock that skirted the path and placed his index finger on it. A moment later, the rock began to gush fresh water that quenched the three pilgrims and allowed them to resume the journey to the Verna.
Since then, this fresh water has quenched many travellers over the centuries. In every season, the flow of the source is always the same: two drops per second.
This water, it was soon discovered, not only took thirst away, but it was useful to cure disease. Many people who went to the Verna stopped here and drank, obtaining prodigious results on fatigue, pain, lack of appetite, fever etc…
Over the centuries the reputation of the small source grew and in 1883 a chapel dedicated to St. Francis was built next to it. On its entrance we can read: “The near Fountain is called San Francesco’s. Its water, beneficial in diseases, was always sought by the faithful”.
This water became well known in the 1930s, when Friar Achille used it in the preparation of many of his tonics.
Today, almost no one goes along the ancient path and the Fonte, with its little chapel, it is almost always unaided.
South of the Fonte, in the so-called Macchia del Lupo, there is a rock, whose shape as the remembrance of a foot and the hole of a cane, always attributed to St. Francis.
It is easy to get there: take the path that leads from the provincial road of La Verna, a few hundred meters downstream from Beccia, to Poggio di Fognano.
And above all, drink a sip of this water, it is definitely worth it!
Observation of Bartolomeo from Pisa:
The miracle that inspired Giotto for the fresco was narrated between 1246 and 1247, by Tommaso da Celano in the Second Life of San Francesco (XVII, 46). The Saint ” one day wanted to go to the hermitage, to freely devote himself to contemplation”. This hermitage was identified with Verna by Bartolomeo da Pisa. It was summer, St Francis was very weak and got help from a poor farmer to ride his donkey. They walked a lot, “the farmer, who followed the Saint and climbed up mountain paths, was exhausted by the roughness and length of the journey” and could no longer stand it, quenched by thirst. He begged the saint to have mercy on him and to get him some water. Francesco came down from the donkey, knelt and began to pray with his hands to the sky, remaining in prayer until he was heard, and water started to come out from the rock. “Come on” he shouted to the farmer, “there you will find fresh water, which the merciful Christ has made to spring from the rock to quench your thirst”.
the hermitage of casella
From the website “Il Cammino di Assisi”
The legend says that St. Francis, after receiving the stigmata, left La Verna on the 30th September 1224.
The itinerary that he was supposed to follow was winding towards Monte Arcoppe (Montalcoppi), the Foresto to reach the village called Casella (Caprese Michelangelo); from here, via Castello di Montauto, Sansepolcro, Città di Castello, he would have reached Assisi.
At Casella, he wanted to stop for a ritual. From that height, where the eye sweeps in the vastness of superb landscapes, St. Francis, aware that this journey would have been without return (he will die in Assisi on 3 October 1226), looked back to La Verna and said with profound emotion: “Goodbye, mount of God, holy mountain, mons coagulatus, mons pinguis, mons in quo beneplacitum est Deo habitare! Goodbye mount Alvernia, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit bless you! Stay in peace, that we will no longer see each other“.
This sentence can be found in the first historical trace that we have of the Hermitage of Casella: a manuscript that bears the date of 30th September 1228, day-anniversary of the departure of the Saint. Similar words can be found in a book printed in Florence in 1628 and preserved in the library of Verna, which, after describing the stop of St. Francis, reads as follows: “And he said these words with plenty of tears; with the help of his companions, they planted a cross in this same place, where he said these words to the mountain and made the departure. In memory of this, was canonized in the year of the Lord 1229, the community of Caprese, Sovaggio among others built this chapel“.
In the same text we also read: “In this Chapel the Lord works many miracles, through the merits of his servant Francis: the people of the surrounding area go every year to visit the Chapel on the second day of Pentecost, and the Reverend of Piovano di Sovaggio, under whose Parish the Church belongs, tells the mass in this day and the devotees offer their prayers, gifts and vows in that Holy place. Whenever the earth suffers from rain, people uses to go in procession to pray for that need, and in sign of their petition they take a slab from the roof, it has not rained the same, or the following day. This is the reason why the Chapel was built.“
At the beginning, there was only a small chapel, before the adjacent hermitage was built. It already existed in 1522, because in that year, as it is clear from a document of the Caprese Michelangelo Municipal Archives: “January 22, 1522. Come and waited at the Chapel in the alps di dicto comune è venuto ad habitare uno romito, homo relligioso et devoto il quale desidererebbe … stanziorno per dicto asino fiorini quattro larghi d’oro.”
The hermits at Casella succeeded each other over time, we do not know if uninterrupted or irregular, at least in the first centuries. On the 14th of April 1733, Andrea Nofrini of Parrocchia di S. Biagio in Fragaiolo, introduced himself to the Bishop of Sansepolcro to obtain the license “to be able to wear the robe of the Father St. Francis, to become a hermit in order to serve God in this vocation.”
From the end of the 16th century onwards, there are many news about the Hermitage, many names of hermits who stayed there, detailed descriptions of the interior of the church and the hermitage, inventories of the sacred furnishings and very precise reports on the entrances, exits and oblations of benefactors.
The devotion with which the inhabitants of the surrounding villages climbed to the Hermitage to celebrate religious rites has always been great: The last hermit seems to have been Giuseppe Veri from S. Giorgio in Salutio, who was hermit on that hill until the beginning of our century.
Since then, for many years, both the church and the hermitage have remained abandoned and were seriously damaged. However, in the 80s, the faithfuls of Chitignano, Caprese, Subbiano and Chiusi della Verna expressed the desire to rebuild the Hermitage; they joined the competence of local administrators and authorities, and after few years of hard work, largely voluntary, the Eremo della Casella returned to its former glory.
Today we can breathe again that holy air that has always been breathed from that distant 1228. It is not difficult, looking towards the Sanctuary of La Verna, imaging the old St. Francis, crying, on his knee and praying.