When St. Francis Needed to Get Away…

When St. Francis Needed to Get Away… May 15, 2012

Pope Benedict was scheduled to make a pastoral visit to La Verna on May 13.  The monks and sisters there waited eagerly for his arrival; but inclement weather (a heavy rainfall) necessitated the cancellation of that part of the trip.  I imagine it was the difficult spiral climb up that mountain that could not be negotiated during a heavy rainstorm.

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St. Francis is most often associated with the Italian village  of Assisi.  And fair enough:  Assisi was home base for Francis and the other monks of the Order of Friars Minor.

Sometimes, though, he just needed to get away.  That’s what happened when, in August 1224, Francis withdrew to La Verna, about a day’s walk away, for an extended 40-day period of prayer and fasting.

The Count of Chiusi, Count Orlando, had given Francis and his monks the monastery of La Verna, a beautiful retreat center atop a mountain, as a gift in 1213.  A few years later, in 1218, Count Orlando built him the Santa Maria degli Angeli Chapel.  There, Francis retreated for prayer and contemplation, and it is there—at La Verna—that Francis received the stigmata.

So there, on our about September 17, Francis had a vision of an angel, a seraphim.  After that vision, Francis developed the stigmata, wounds like those of Christ, in his hands, feet and side.

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The monastery at La Verna operates still today.  The Franciscan monks still gather for prayer six times each day (even during the night hours).

Guests are welcome at La Verna—and the cost, compared to a standard European hotel, is very small.  Our family stayed there on our road trip during the Jubilee Year, in October 2000; and I think the cost, for our simple room, an ample breakfast, lunch, and an evening feast complete with wine (and the opportunity to set your alarm and pray with the monks at 2:00 a.m.) was about $34/night.

I’ve been thinking about that trip today; and I thought I’d share some of our family photos with you.

All the bells’ chimes summon the monks to prayer.

Sister Jacinta, our guide and travel angel, is a Franciscan nun from India.

La Verna’s basilica, where the monks gather for morning prayer and for Mass.

Our private dining room, with its cooking fireplace.

Courtyard, and open walkways to comfortable rooms in the monastery.

This is the cleft in the rock where Francis often slept.  Each night, a raven awakened him for midnight prayer.  The metal grate protects the rock where Francis slept.

Linda and Dennis, our companions, leaving the rocky ledge where, it’s reported, Nazi youth were frightened by an earthquake and ran away– without destroying the monastery, as they had planned.

La Verna is home to the world’s largest collection of Della Robbias.

Altar of St. Francis

Small chapels and prayer rooms throughout La Verna remind us of the centrality of prayer in the monks’ lives.

We wait (and wait, and wait…) while Jerry telephones hotels in Rome, our next destination.

(Can you believe that we were in Europe and did not have reservations for that night?!  We did, though, find rooms at the Michelangelo, a lovely hotel just a brief walk from St. Peter’s Basilica—so the drama ended well.)

Sr. Jacinta says goodbye, and heads back to the chapel for the noon prayer.


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