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The places of the soul

Camaldoli, La Verna and St. Francis’ ways

The entire land of Arezzo is enveloped in an aura of profound mysticism. The uncontaminated nature and peace that characterise the mountainous and hilly areas around the city and in the four valleys have, since the early Middle Ages, created the conditions for the birth of important Benedictine monastic complexes and the subsequent settlement of mendicant orders. Camaldoli, the mother house of the Camaldolese Benedictine congregation, and La Verna, where St Francis received the stigmata, are the brightest jewels in a treasure chest of inestimable value.

The soul of places

“Places have a soul. Our task is to discover it. Just as it is for the human being.”
“The Soul of places” by James Hillman

Places of silence

“We must listen to the silence if we want to hear the soul move.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

A magnificent example of how nature and man manage to live in symbiosis to give life to places of unique spirituality, Camaldoli is the mother house of a Benedictine congregation founded by Saint Romuald in 1012, a short distance from the Tuscan-Romagna Apennine ridge. Immersed in forests tended for centuries by the Camaldolese monks, a hermitage and a monastery still represent two references for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

St Francis’ Ways

St Francis had a special relationship with the land of Arezzo. This is where the Poverello of Assisi (St Francis of Assisi) found refuge several times and spent part of his life. Nowadays you can follow in the saint’s footsteps with the St. Francis Ways, interconnected itineraries that link the land of Arezzo to Assisi amidst nature, spirituality, art and culture. In Valtiberina the Hermitages of Cerbaiolo and Montecasale, in Casentino the Sanctuary of La Verna, in Val di Chiana the Hermitage of Celle are the fundamental Franciscan places touched by the routes.

Mind and body in harmony with nature

On 14 September 1224, St Francis of Assisi received the stigmata on Mount Verna. At the site of the miraculous episode, a sanctuary was built, which is still visited by pilgrims from all over the world. The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Stigmata Chapel house some of the most beautiful Della Robbia terracottas ever made. Sasso Spicco is a mystical place where the future saint loved to take refuge to pray and meditate under a gigantic hanging boulder.

One of the Franciscan places par excellence in the Valtiberina, the Hermitage of Cerbaiolo was established as a Benedictine hermitage in the VIII century, but Franciscan friars settled on the site during this century.  According to tradition, it was home to both St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, who completed his ‘Sermons’ in the hermitage around 1230.

Along an ancient road that led from Sansepolcro to the Alpe della Luna and the forests of the Tuscan-Marchigiano Apennines, Camaldolese monks built the Hermitage of Montecasale around 1192. In 1213 it was given to St Francis and from then on became one of the reference Franciscan sites in the Valtiberina, with various stories linked to the saint.

The Eremo delle Celle hermitage in Cortona, at the foot of Monte Sant’Egidio, is one of the first religious settlements desired by Saint Francis, where according to tradition he drew up his spiritual will. The Poverello d’Assisi (St Francis) obtained the rugged place where he retired to pray in 1211. For centuries, the hermitage was the main location for training Capuchin friars.

Stories of St Francis

One of the best-known episodes in the life of St Francis of Assisi, the “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo” is depicted in different periods in various parts of Italy. The most famous paintings are those in Assisi and Montefalco, but there are also important testimonies in Arezzo.

Caring for the soul

Not of bodies must you take care, nor of riches nor of anything else before and with greater care than of the soul, so that it may become as good as possible […].
Virtue does not arise from riches, but riches and all other goods for men arise from virtue itself.
Plato, Apology of Socrates

Through an innovative itinerary, the Piccolo museo del diario (Little Diary Museum) in Pieve Santo Stefano leads the visitor to discover the history of Italy from an unprecedented point of view, that of ordinary people. The museum was created to recount diaries, written memories and epistolary letters kept in the National Diary Archive founded by Saverio Tutino

In the upper Marecchia Valley, on the border with the territories of Badia Tedalda and Sestino, is the Pennabilli diffuse museum called I Luoghi dell’Anima (Places of the Soul), or seven small museums, each with its own characteristics, desired by the poet Tonino Guerra to stimulate imagination and reflection.

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Other suggested routes

The masterpieces of Piero della Francesca in his homeland

Piero della Francesca is considered one of the pivotal artists of the Italian Renaissance, one of the most influential figures of his time, both as a painter and as a mathematician. Today, few works by the artist from Sansepolcro remain. The largest nucleus can be found in the city of Arezzo and the Valtiberina, whose landscapes are often depicted in the masterpieces executed by this absolute genius of art of all times.

From the plains to the mountains, forests, rivers and lakes

Thick green forests and crystal-clear river waters: a varied territory with many parks and nature reserves to visit. Such as the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, the Sasso Simone and Alpe della Luna Reserves on the Apennine ridge, and the river reserves on the Arno. These are protected places that can be accessed in exchange for respect and care for the environment.