Modest Chiesina Uzzanese is a small town on the western edge of the Valdinievole region. Its residents, called chiesinesi, were the last of the Pistoia province to gain administrative autonomy—it was only in 1963 that the town took on this status—yet their history and traditions stretch back to medieval times.
Local identity developed around one clear calling: welcoming the stranger. More specifically, the weary pilgrim: Chiesina Uzzanese was a natural resting place, given its geographic location along the Tuscan stretch of the via Francigena, the famous pilgrimage road running to Rome from Canterbury, via France. Combining this flow with that of smaller routes, like the Cassia-Clodia, which connected Rome to Pistoia and Lucca, meant there were constant waves of tired wayfarers filing through town.
All this movement brought about the construction of the Xenodochio, the first must-see for any Chiesina Uzzanese visitor, even today, set in the town’s main square.
Xeno-what? Call it a hospitality center—a place that played a crucial role, blurring the lines between hostel, guest room and shelter. A small farmhouse-like structure, next door to a church in piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, it held a few cells on its first floor and a reception room on the ground floor. The latter was where churchwomen welcomed and assisted those in need for over three centuries.
To visit, you’ll need to make a reservation; contact the Culture office of the city administration.
The Xenodochio’s associated church is now known as the Church of Santa Maria della Neve; part of the diocese of Pescia, it was built on the base of the old structure but only took its current form in the mid-19th century. Its neighboring belltower is an even more recent construction, with work wrapping up only in the 1990s. Its more contemporary aesthetic is clear, even to casual observers.
The stone facade is rather stark, with an entryway dating to the 17th century. Similarly understated is the single-nave interior, though a couple of key artworks are worth seeking out: Alessandro Bardelli’s “Coronation of the Virgin with Two Saints”, plus a more surprising figure: a statue depicting Saint Anthony of Padua.
Try to time your visit for the week of August 5: celebrations take place in honor of the Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow—yes, at the height of summer). Festivities run for a whole week, called the “Settimana Chiesinese”, and span cultural initiatives to sporting events.
Chiesina Uzzanese wasn’t just a passageway for pilgrims: residents had and have plenty of their own stories to tell. The local economy was historically based on agriculture and cultivation of flowers, made possible by a redevelopment of the nearby marshland (affectionately referred to as “padule” in Tuscan speak).
Today, to get a look at this legacy, pop by the hamlet of Molin Nuovo, home to the remains of an agricultural mill; there are fewer than 200 residents, but they pull off a big party during the second half of October, known as the Sagra del Ballotto and treating visitors to a cornerstone of Tuscan autumn: chestnuts, both roasted and boiled.
Less directly associated with the town industries, but nonetheless rooted in nature, are its green areas, playgrounds and public parks. The Pertini, Chiesanuova and Molin Nuovo parks all make suitable stops for modern, pint-sized pilgrims in need of a moment of play!