The Hermitage of the Casella. The last refuge of Saint Francis before he returned to Assisi.
The Hermitage of the Casella is a sacred place in the heart of the Tuscan Apennine mountains. Tucked within the centuries-old beech forests of the mountains, there is a large green meadow with a small, modest stone chapel and a hermitage that welcomes travellers and pilgrims. It’s a peaceful place with Franciscan simplicity where you can pray and immerse yourself in the deep silence of the unspoiled nature around you. For a long time it has been a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of the Caprese, Chitignano and Chiusi della Verna valleys.
The Pathways of Francis. The Hermitage of the Casella is not easy to reach. It is located at the top of Monte Foresto, a mountain that stands 1300 meters high. There are two ways to reach the hermitage from Caprese Michelangelo. One way is by walking or by mountain bike on a path that starts in the area of the Sovaggio. The other way is by car on an unpaved road leading out of the town of Fragaiolo. You can also choose a road from the town of Subbiano, in the lowlands of the Casentino mountains. This route goes on for 26 kilometers or about 6 hours of hiking in the forest. The trails on this route are marked but be careful not to become too distracted by the beautiful, peaceful surroundings and go off course. No matter which route you take, the climb is difficult but the panoramic views make all your effort worthwhile. From the top you can see Casentino, Valtiberina, Romagna and will become completely surrounded by the silence of the huge forest.
According to the story of his life, Saint Francis received the Stigmata and then left La Verna to head toward Assisi on September 30, 1224. His path led him toward Monte Arcoppe (Montalcoppi), the town of Foresto and then toward the place called La Casella. He intended to continue towards Castello di Montauto, Sansepolcro, Città di Castello until he finally reached Assisi. During his stop in La Casella, Saint Francis decided to perform a religious rite on the top of the mountain. After doing this, he turned to face La Verna and said: “Goodbye, mountain of God! Goodbye Mount Alvernia! May you remain at peace, as we will never see each other again.”
The first historical records of the Hermitage date back to September 30, 1224, the day of the saint’s departure. At the beginning, only a small chapel was built but later it was expanded to connect it to the hermitage, in existence since 1522. The people of the nearby parishes have always considered La Casella as a real Franciscan sanctuary. Throughout history and despite the fact that the place is more than an hour’s walk away, the townspeople have made pilgrimages and led processions to the site. The anniversary of this event takes place every year on the meadow of the Hermitage on June 29th, the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
The love and devotion of the inhabitants of the three municipalities of Caprese, Chiusi and Chitignano, all part of the Casella area, are what keep the routes to the Casella open. The townspeople also keep the chapel and the hermitage in good condition and open to all pilgrims and travellers.
As very devoted followers of the Saint, these inhabitants began to restore the church and the ruins of the hermitage in the 1980s and later turned the hermitage into a refuge for pilgrims.
At the Hermitage of the Casella, everyone has the right to come in, to light a fire, to eat and to sleep. Men and women of all creeds and backgrounds are welcome. No one can lay claim to the place. There is no possession nor exclusivity and everyone must make room for anyone who may enter, in the true spirit of the Franciscans.