One of the most fascinating places in Arezzo, the Sanctuary of La Verna is located on the hill of the same name, one of the peaks of the southern slope of Monte Penna, in the Casentino Forests National Park.
In 1213 Count Orlando Catani, lord of Chiusi, gave Saint Francis of Assisi the land to build a hermitage, where in the following years cells for the friars and a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary of the Angels were built . According to tradition, on 14 September 1224 Saint Francis was in the area for his usual periods of prayer and meditation. During his stay he asked God to be able to participate with all his being in the pain of Christ on the cross and the Lord appeared in the form of a crucified seraphim, leaving him as a gift the so-called stigmata, or the wounds caused by the traumas suffered during the passion.
After the death of the poor man of Assisi, La Verna became one of the most important Franciscan places, with the birth of a sanctuary that is half of pilgrimages from all over the world.
From the large Quadrante square, one can admire the fabulous views and choose which place of the Franciscan complex to visit. On this square, which takes its name from a sundial, there is a large wooden cross and a cistern for collecting water of the 16th century.
The church of Our Lady of Angels (Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli) was built between 1250 and 1260 in place of the first chapel commissioned by Saint Francis. Inside it, there is the “Nativity with San Francesco and San’Antonio” and “Cristo in Pietà tra la Vergine e San Giovanni”, both by Andrea della Robbia and his son Luca il Giovane, dated between 1490 and 1493. By Andrea della Robbia is also the reredos with the “Assumption that gives its sacred belt to Saint Thomas, between Saints Gregory, Francis and Bonaventure” of 1488.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta) was begun in 1348 thanks to the contribution of Tarlato di Pietramala, but was finished in the sixteenth century thanks to the support of the Arte della Lana of Florence. The church has been remodelled several times and is introduced by a portico. Inside there are various masterpieces in glazed terracotta by Andrea della Robbia, in some cases assisted by his sons, such as the “Madonna del Rifugio” of 1505-1510, the “Nativity” of 1479, “San Francesco e Sant’Antonio abate” of 1475-1480, The “Ascension of Jesus” of 1480 and the “Annunciation” of 1475. The church also includes the Chapel of the Relics, dating back to 1635, where the tunic of the saint is preserved.
The Corridor of the Stigmata, entirely covered and frescoed, was built between 1578 and 1582. Walking through it you have access to chapels and various rooms of prayer, meditation and rest of the saint, such as the cave where San Francesco slept on the ground and the Sasso Spicco, an external mystical place where the saint meditated under a giant suspended boulder. From the corridor you can also reach the ancient hermitage and finally the Chapel of the Stigmata, the heart of the sanctuary, which was erected around 1263.
On the floor, a plaque marks the point where the miracle of stigmata would have happened. Here too there are two works by Della Robbia. Above the door there is a round of Andrea della Robbia with the “Madonna and Child blessing” of 1480-1485. On the back wall there is a monumental arched altarpiece depicting the “Crucifixion between angels, with the Madonna, San Giovanni, San Francesco and San Girolamo” at its feet, executed in 1481.
In 2002, the new Museum of La Verna was inaugurated, located in seven large rooms, which includes paintings, sculptures, sacred furnishings, liturgical furnishings, illuminated chorales and even scientific instruments. A room is dedicated to the ancient pharmacy and the laboratory. For the nature enthusiasts, the sanctuary is surrounded by a monumental forest maintained for centuries by the friars, characterised by an extraordinary botanical richness and some paths that help visitors to go back in time, when the patron saint of Italy and his first followers frequented the sacred mountain.