Chiusi della Verna, the highest Tuscan town, is one of the most important places in Casentino for the presence of one of the most renowned religious sites linked to St. Francis, the Sanctuary of La Verna.
The territory of Chiusi, deep within the National Park of Casentinese Forests, Mount Falterona and Campigna, was populated even at Etruscan and Roman times, as the findings in various localities and some toponyms, like Dama and Vezzano, suggest. Here ran the Via Maior, High Road, a Roman street that linked Arezzo to Romagna through the Serra Pass, after going on the banks of the Corsalone stream. During the Middle Ages, on this street developed a pilgrim road used especially by the German pilgrims that went to Rome as an alternative to the Via Francigena, the via Romea Germanica.
Chiusi appears in documents in 976, when the emperor gave to Goffredo d’Ildebrando Catani the castle and the surrounding territory as a feud. His descendant, Count Orlando, in 1213 gave Mount Verna to St. Francis of Assisi to establish a place of worship there.
In 1261 Guglielmino degli Ubertini, bishop of Arezzo, laid claim to the feud but left the castle of Chiusi to the Catana family. In the first half of the 14th century, under the ownership of the Tarlatis from Pietramala, the castle was expanded and reinforced. With the fall of Arezzo under the control of Florence in 1384, Chiusi became a Florentine municipality until the reform of 1776, when the principal town incorporated thirteen hamlets to make a bigger town.
Today, Chiusi della Verna is divided in two parts: the old town is the higher of the two with the ruins of the castle and the new one that developed in the 19th century as a climatic centre and also as a destination for religious tourism. From the mighty fortilice still is visible the citadel of the count Orlando. Near there is the old town hall from which even Ludovico Buonarroti exercised his power. Still in the whereabouts of the fortilice there is Adam’s Rock (Roccia di Adamo), a big boulder that is said to be the one represented by Michelangelo inside the Sistine Chapel, in the well-known fresco “the Creation”.
The main religious building in Chiusi is the church of St. Michele Archangel, built by the Tarlatis in 1338 in late Romanesque architectural style.
The surroundings of Chiusi della Verna are packed with nature and history. The church of st. Agata in La Rocca was made by the Byzantines in the 6th-7th centuries but it was rebuilt in a Romanesque style in the 12th century. Another Romanesque church is st. Martino in Compito that contains a 15th century painted tabula by Neri di Bicci with “Madonna with child and saints Francis and Martino”.
In Vezzano, the 12th-century rural church of st. Mary is thought to be, alongside the church of st. John in Caprese Michelangelo, the place where Michelangelo was baptised in 1475. Marvellous partial views are visible in the Sacred Valley (Vallesanta) where the villages of Corezzo, Rimbocchi, Biforco and Serra are.
The most important place of the territory of Chiusi is the Sanctuary of st. Francis, where on the 14th of September 1224 the Saint received the stigmata. At 1128 metres, in the southern part of Mount Penna, the Sanctuary is a building complex and pilgrim hostels that every year is visited by people from all over the world.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli), finished in 1509, keeps the tunic that St. Francis is said to have worn it when he received the stigmata and also some masterpieces, among these there are the glazed terracottas from the Renaissance made by Della Robbias. The most important building of the sanctuary is the Chapel of the Stigmata, done under Count Simone from Battifolle in 1263, that houses the “Crucifixion” by Andrea della Robbia. Going out of the chapel it is possible to reach the Sasso Spicco, a mystical place where St. Francis loved to go to pray under a giant suspended boulder.