In the footsteps of Saint Francis in Tuscany

Along the path of faith between the Sanctuary of La Verna and Sansepolcro

You probably already know that Tuscany is crossed by the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim path running from Canterbury, in England, to Rome. What you may not know is that there are many other pilgrimage routes that pass through our region.

With this article, we’d like to introduce you to the Cammino di Francesco, or the Way of Saint Francis, an itinerary that links together the places associated with the life and teachings of St. Francis. Extending for more than 350 kilometres through the Northern and Central Apennine mountains, the Cammino stretches across the Italian regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio and can be explored both on foot and by bike.

Way of Saint Francis General Map
The Way of Saint Francis – Itinerary Overview [From www.viadifrancesco.it]

More specifically, the Cammino is divided into northern and southern routes, composed respectively of 8 and 10 legs. Its centre of gravity and final destination is in Assisi, the Umbria town where the Saint was buried back in the thirteenth century. While the northern route kicks off in La Verna, Tuscany, and heads south to Assisi, the southern one starts from a sanctuary in the area of Rieti, in the Lazio region, and then heads north to reach the Umbrian town.

Francesco’s Ways in Tuscany

The first two (and part of the third) legs that make up the Northern route plunge deep into Tuscan landscapes, in the area around Arezzo.

The starting point is the sanctuary of La Verna, where Francis received the stigmata. It is located at the southern border of the Casentinesi Forests National Park. The path then continues in the Valtiberina Toscana, passing through the towns of Pieve Santo Stefano and Sansepolcro.

Let’s uncover some more details about Tuscany’s Cammino di Francesco.

tau-way of saint francis
The pilgrim routes of San Francesco in Valtiberina are well marked with a yellow Tau.
Sanctuary of La Verna – Pieve Santo Stefano

Distance: 15 km
Difficulty: medium
Length: 5 hours
Must-sees:

  • The Sanctuary of La Verna, one of the most important Franciscan sanctuaries in the world, is definitely worth a visit;
  • When you reach the top of Monte Calvano, at an altitude of 1250 mt above sea level, you will enjoy a spectacular 360° panoramic view of the Apennine mountains from a vast, tree-free meadow;
  • Pieve Santo Stefano is the town of the National Diary Archive, collecting autobiographical writings of ordinary people after the destruction left by World War II.

More info here.

A panoramic view of the Sanctuary of La Verna - Credit: Jacob Caddy
Pieve Santo Stefano – Sansepolcro

Distance: 36 km
Difficulty: very difficult
Length: 10 hours
Must-sees:

  • Take a little detour to visit the Hermitage of Cerbaiolo: just know that an old adage says “those who have seen La Verna without seeing Cerbaiolo have seen the mother without seeing the son”;
  • The second, but no less important, hermitage you will encounter on the way to Sansepolcro is the “Eremo di Montecasale”, where documented Franciscan presence dates back to 1213;
  • Since Sansepolcro is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca, the Civic Museum in town holds some of his masterpieces, as well as works by other well-known artists such as Andrea Della Robbia. Furthermore, the churches here host additional works by Renaissance and Mannerist painters, including Luca Signorelli, Perugino, and Rosso Fiorentino.

More info here.

 

San Francis Church in Sansepolcro
San Francis Church in Sansepolcro - Credit: David Butali
Sansepolcro – Citerna (Umbria)

Distance: 13 km
Difficulty: easy
Length: 4 hours
Must-sees: once in Citerna, make sure you pay a visit to the “Museo della Madonna di Citerna”, which houses an important terracotta by Donatello.

More info here.

San Francis Church in Sansepolcro - Credit: David Butali
Alternative route: Sanctuary of La Verna – Anghiari

Last but not least, there is also an alternative route that runs through the Valtiberina Toscana, from the Sanctuary of La Verna to the town of Anghiari, touching other sites connected to the life of Saint Francis. Here are the details:

Distance: 32 km
Difficulty: medium
Must-sees:

  • The Castle and the Cenacolo of Montauto, where Francis spent a few days after he received the stigmata in La Verna. The Cenacolo cherishes a little piece of the blood-stained tunic that Francis was wearing those days, while the rest of the relic is on display in the sanctuary of La Verna;
  • The Casella Hermitage, in Caprese Michelangelo, dating back to 1228, hosts a dormitory where it is possible to sleep overnight;
  • Santa Maria alla Sovara Church (Anghiari), one of the best surviving examples of Romanesque churches in the Tuscan Valtiberina;
  • The Church of the Cross in Anghiari, the place where St Francis, on his way from la Verna to Assisi, is said to have planted a wooden cross in the ground. The church was built years later in that exact spot.

More info here.

The view from the Eremo della Casella - Credit: David Butali
Cammino di San Francesco by bicycle

As we mentioned above, the Way of Saint Francis can also be covered by bike. The cycling itinerary has a total of 11 legs, respectively 5 covering the Northern Route and 6 covering the Southern one. Check out the details here

Useful links

 

Italian Wonder Ways

In September 2016 5 groups of journalists from important periodicals and international tourism bloggers travelled through the Way of Saint Francis and other 4 pilgrimage in Central Italy (including the Via Francigena, the Via Amerina, Benedict’s Path and the Franciscan Path of the Marca/Via Lauretana) and told stories from their first-hand experience on various channels. More info here.

Cover image credit: David Butali

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Francigena and Spiritual Routes