In the heart of the Casentino, between the valley floor and the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, lies one of Tuscany’s countless secret treasures: the Sanctuary of La Verna, an elegant Franciscan sanctuary located within the municipality of Chiusi della Verna. We are in the province of Arezzo, immersed in an area of high naturalistic interest, among woods, mountains and pleasant valleys.
The sanctuary of La Verna is a famous pilgrimage destination because it is here that St Francis is said to have received the stigmata in 1224. It is situated at an altitude of 1128 metres, on one side of Mount Penna, and is constantly visited by pilgrims who come here to gather and pray.
In addition to the sanctuary itself, it is worth visiting the numerous religious structures present, such as the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Major Basilica. Also, don’t miss the beautiful monumental forest of La Verna, cared for over the centuries by the Franciscan friars, a large forest of fir and beech trees that winds all around the sanctuary, to be explored on foot through a network of paths.
Those who come to this remote corner of Tuscany do so mainly for the Sanctuary, but in addition to it there are numerous other attractions not to be missed, both religious and natural. When you get there, you will find yourself on the Quadrant, the square of the external belvedere from which you can access all the buildings of the sanctuary. It is so called because of the sundial on the wall of the basilica bell tower, which overlooks the square.
On the quadrant there is also a wooden cross planted in the rock, and a 16th century well-cistern built by Franciscan monks. Thanks to its belvedere-terrace style overlook, there is also a magnificent view of the Casentino, its valley and forests.
Elevated to the status of minor basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1921, the Verna Sanctuary overlooks the so-called Quadrant, the beautiful square in front of the building. It is a sanctuary built in Renaissance-Baroque style starting in 1260, and rendered to its present state almost 500 years later; it is undoubtedly the most famous convent in Casentino.
It is among the most famous and important places of Franciscanism, since it was thanks to the Saint that an initial hermitic nucleus was developed and founded in this area, with small cells and a small church, that of Santa Maria degli Angeli. And it was here, in 1224, that St Francis received the stigmata while praying; from this episode, La Verna became a sacred area.
A number of Franciscan friars still reside at the Verna Sanctuary today. Silence and respect are therefore recommended.
The chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli represents the original core of the hermit complex, commissioned by St Francis himself in 1216. Initially a small church, it was enlarged to its present size thanks to Pope Innocent IV in 1250.
Inside there are a number of really interesting sacred works, all relating directly or indirectly to St. Francis, belonging to different eras. Of particular note are the paintings by Ferdinando Folchi from 1877, and the reliefs of the Nativity with St Francis and St Anthony by Andrea della Robbia.
The Basilica maggiore, built next to the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, was built later, only in 1348, and finished around the 16th century. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, you enter it through a beautiful Renaissance-style portico . Inside, you will be welcomed by a beautiful cross-vaulted nave, and can admire numerous works and reliefs by the likes of Andrea Della Robbia and Piero di Zanobi.
Inside a side chapel are the remains of the beatified friar Giovanni della Verna. Other chapels are dedicated to St Francis (such as the one containing his habit and a remnant of his blood) and to Prince Piero Ginori Conti, dating back several centuries.
It is the episode of the stigmata of Saint Francis that has given the greatest impetus to the sanctuary of La Verna. This is testified by a series of structures dedicated to the event, including the Stigmata Corridor, which is located behind the portico of the main Basilica and displays a series of striking works of sacred art, including paintings, reliefs, majolica, sculptures and frescoes dedicated to Saint Francis.
Along the corridor, every day since 1431, the procession of the ora nona takes place at 3pm. At the end of the corridor is the Chapel of the Stigmata, the real heart of the sanctuary, which was built on the spot where the miracle is said to have occurred.
Covering an area of no less than 200 hectares, the monumental forest of La Verna is a mixed forest of silver fir and beech, which covers the entire Mount Penna, on which the sanctuary stands. Very beautiful to visit on foot, walking along the paths that wind along it, the monumental forest is home to a rich and varied fauna, as well as caves, ravines and natural cavities that are home to numerous species of plants and flowers.
Walking along the path that leads from the sanctuary of La Verna to the summit of Monte Penna, at a certain point you will notice an enormous boulder positioned as if overhanging the precipice. It is the boulder of Frate Lupo, which takes its name from the episode in which Saint Francis encountered the brigand Lupo, whom he converted to Christianity.
The rock has a very unusual shape, and its position on the edge of the precipice, combined with the legend of St Francis and the brigand, make it one of the most popular nature attractions for tourists who come here.
David Badii was a young novice friar who lived at the Sanctuary of La Verna in the late 1980s, and used to retire in prayer to the monumental forest. One evening when he did not return to the friary, the other friars became suspicious and began to fear the worst.
Unfortunately this was the case, as he was found dead in the forest. A large boulder, forming a cavity that was presumably the friar’s reference point when he prayed, has now become Friar David’s cave, which can be reached on foot from the sanctuary in a short time. Inside the small grotto there are still the young friar’s sandals, and a plaque with a photograph of him commemorates him.
Here is all the information you need to visit the Sanctuary of La Verna.
The sanctuary is open for visits every day from 6.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., while the Chapel of the Stigmata opens from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to October, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to March.
The shrine shop, which sells souvenirs, books and products from the old pharmacy, opens daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m
Masses are celebrated daily at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and on Sundays and holidays also at 10 a.m. (July and August only), 12.15 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. (April to December only). In addition, on Thursdays at 6 p.m. there is Eucharistic adoration, and on Saturdays at 6.30 p.m. the celebration of the rosary.
Guided tours of the Sanctuary of La Verna are available at a free offer, lasting about 45-60 minutes. In addition, there is the possibility of requesting a meeting with a religious person from the sanctuary on a particular topic, which can only be held from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. or from 3.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The sanctuary of La Verna has a number of facilities for accommodation, including a guesthouse, which has 72 heated rooms with bathroom and shower, which can be booked by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0575-5341 or 0575-534210 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is also a refectory with 600 places, open every day for lunch from 12.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner at 7.30 p.m.
Excellent starting points for visiting the Sanctuary of La Verna and the areas of the Casentino forests are the towns of Poppi, Bagno di Romagna, Bibbiena or Pieve Santo Stefano.
The Sanctuary of La Verna is located in a rather isolated position, in the heart of the Casentino forests. From Florence it takes about 2 hours, driving along the steep SR70 road of Consuma, which from Pontassieve climbs over the Consuma Pass to enter Casentino, or the convenient but long alternative of the motorway, entering at the Firenze Sud tollgate and exiting at Arezzo, then continuing towards Casentino.
The journey time from other Tuscan cities varies between 2 ½ and 3 ½ hours. In many cases, it is necessary to first arrive in Florence and then proceed with the alternatives seen above.
For those travelling by public transport, getting to the sanctuary of La Verna is difficult but not impossible. It is a matter of getting to Chiusi della Verna, which is connected by bus from Bibbiena, where regional trains from Arezzo stop. The entire journey from Florence to Chiusi della Verna takes about four hours, including waiting time for connections.
The last stretch of road from Chiusi della Verna to the destination is the Via del Santuario della Verna, which climbs along the side of Mount Penna for a difference in height of about 200 metres; it can be covered on foot in less than an hour, and its length is just over 3 kilometres.
The Verna Sanctuary is located in the municipality of Chiusi della Verna, in the province of Arezzo, in the heart of the Casentino forests.