It was the early 1200s when one of the most important Francescan sanctuaries was erected in the Tuscan Apennines. Rising up on the mount of La Verna, according to the wishes of St. Francis of Assisi, the monastery complex is now a destination for pilgrims from all over the world. It all came about when St. Francis met Count Orlando Cattani, the local landowner, who decided to donate the mountain de La Verna al frate.
The Sanctuary, which stands on the rock surrounded by the nature of the Casentinese forest, includes the little church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the corridor and the chapel of the Holy Stigmate and the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, where you can still admire the Annunciation, one of the masterpieces by sculptor Andrea della Robbia.
The Sanctuary, a destination for prayer and community, is where St. Francis received the stigmate on 17 September 1224, a place where nature and spirituality achieve their natural balance and where the beauty of untouched places embraces faith, history and culture.
The original convent consisted of a small church and monks’ cells. It was significantly enlarged in the second half of the thirteenth century and then continued to grow throughout the following centuries.
The Verna Museum was opened in 1961 and is home to 1978 precious works of art such as seventeenth century paintings, frescoes which have come off the walls and liturgical artifacts, all from the Franciscan convent.
Sadly, the museum was burgled in its opening year and several items were stolen, including a beautiful rock crystal cross and some twelfth century miniatures. The museum had been closed after the burglary and was only re-opened in 2002. The museum is inside the Sanctuary and is made up of large fifteenth century rooms which themselves say a lot about what life was like in the convent centuries ago. The museum itinerary ends in one of the most atmospheric areas of the convent, by the ‘fuoco comune’ (the fireplace), where the monks would gather together on icy winter nights.
Many liturgical artifacts from the convent are on display in the museum, such as precious coral miniatures (fifteenth/sixteenth century), a Late Gothic gilded copper reliquary (fifteenth century), a wall-hanging known as ‘della Pentacoste’ (1574), paintings by the Florentine School (sixteenth/seventeenth century), sacred vases (Murano glass and ceramics from the ancient farmacia), reliquaries and other items. The museum also holds several works of art in deposit which belong to the Provincia Toscana dei Frati Minori and are originally from other convents.
In particular, there is a beautiful polychrome wooden crucifix and a ceramic bust of Christ attributed to Andrea della Robbia.