I had the privilege of also seeing the habit Francis wore the last three years of his life. It is in a Franciscan church atop a mountain in Italy called La Verna. I was staying with some Franciscans in Fiesole, outside Florence. One day some of the younger Brothers (friars) told me we were going to La Verna. I had no idea what that meant. I learned that on the mountain of La Verna St. Francis lived in a cave and received there the stigmata, marks of the wounds of Christ in his own body. Here’s a tidbit about La Verna:
"In 1213 St Francis and St Leo were walking through the Montefeltro region when they met the Count of Chiusi, Orlando Catani. In exchange for praying for his salvation the count gave Mount La Verna to St Francis and his companions, to use as a place of peace and solitude. When St Francis first visited the mountain he was greeted by a great flock of birds that seemed to demonstrate the pleasure of his arrival. St Francis took this as a sign from God that here was where the order should establish one of their hermitages."It was here on the 14th September 1224, his last visit to La Verna, that he received the stigmata of Christ. He died two years later on 4th October 1226. Not long after this, continued interest in the hermitage lead to the establishment of the monastery. It was such an admired destination that within 300 years the sprawling collection of buildings that are present today had taken shape." (See citation HERE)
La Verna was an isolated spot in St. Francis’s time and still is today. We drove a long winding road up the mountain to get there and I started to get car sick. Once there, I knew that I had come to a magical place. There are centuries old buildings and a church. There’s also a rather comfortable hostel there for pilgrims.
It’s hard to convey the haunting beauty of La Verna. One friar took me to a side door of a chapel which opened up on a small stairway and balcony. The scene took away my breath. I took a photo of it:
Another treat was walking down a long corridor. There were windows on one side and murals of the life of St. Francis on the opposite wall.
But in that wall we came to a doorway and as you looked in, surprise of surprises, it opens onto a ravine and woodlands.
It seemed like one of those story-book scenes from my youth where you read about going through a door and leaving this world to go into another, magical world. We entered and took steps down to the cave where Francis received the stigmata. It was very moving to visit the spot.
|Francis receives the stigmata by Giotto|
We also had arrived in time for a major feast of La Verna the following day. It venerates St. Francis’ habit which is kept there as a holy relic. I was told that the Count who gave the mountain to Francis and his little band of spiritual brothers asked Francis for his habit. The Count had a new one made in exchange. Francis graciously gave it to him. The Count eventually shared the habit with the church which was built above Francis’ cave on La Verna.
|Holy Habit at La Verna|
On the feast day, after the Mass, I got to eat with the Friars in a large dining room. We had the usual good Italian food at mid-day (the main meal of the day in Italy). Though the Franciscans maintain a simple life-style in following St. Francis’ example, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good meal with lots to eat. That, also, is a simple joy.
This Thursday, October 4th, is the Feast Day of St. Francis. He is special to our parish (see why HERE) and very much to me. I have lots of stories I will probably share about St. Francis and the places of Italy special because of St. Francis; I have had the privileged of visiting many of them. May St. Francis pray for all of us at Holy Faith. And may we learn to value more simplicity in our lives.
Here are some more photos from La Verna:
|Up the Road to La Verna|
|Church at La Verna|
|One of the Beautiful Chapels at La Verna|