In 2003, when it was inaugurated, the route only passed through the territory of the Valle Santa (Holy Valley) in Rieti, in an area of 80 kilometres. Today it has been extended to various regions, going from Assisi to Rome or vice versa, through ten stages, to ideally relive the human and spiritual journey of the Saint.
There are four sanctuaries that are part of the original itinerary, ideally situated at the four ends of a mystic cross: Fontecolombo, Greccio, Poggio Bustone, La Foresta.
To begin the walk, the pilgrim must pick up a special “passport” at the sanctuary of departure, to be stamped in the various stages of the overall journey. At the end of the trip, the pilgrim may be asked by the Office of Saint Francis Way for their certificate certifying the achievement of the final objective, the eighty kilometres (of the tour limited to the four sanctuaries) travelled in five days with stops for lunch.
Along the way there are – in addition to the sanctuaries to reach – the stables where one can rent a horse or a mountain bike to follow the path most suited to these sports, and accommodations where travellers can stay for the night. The sanctuaries, for those with physical or age-related problems, can be reached by car or by bus.
It begins at the Sanctuary of Fonte Colombo, considered to be the Franciscan Sinai because it is on the mountain St. Francis chose to draw up the definitive Rule of his Order. St. Francis underwent an operation on his eyes: a red-hot iron was applied to all the veins from his ear to his eyebrow but – the scriptures say – miraculously, brother fire saved Francis from pain.
From Colle Posta, on the road to reach Greccio, the Valle Santa dominates everything all around it: to the south is the valley, Val Canera; to the north the plain, Piana Reatina, dominated to the east by the mountain, Monte Terminillo; to the west is the town of Contigliano and in the distance Greccio. The sanctuary is built into the rock, like an eagle’s nest, and is an ante litteram example of eco-sustainable architecture, respectful of the environment.
Greccio is known worldwide for having been chosen by St. Francis as the site of the first Living Nativity Scene of Christianity in 1223. Even today, every Christmas, there is the historical re-enactment of the first nativity scene in six living tableau with characters in medieval costumes. From the hermitage, one can see the refectory, the small cell where Francis rested sitting up and not lying down on the bare rock. There are many works to admire inside: from the fresco by the School of Giotto, to the “Virgin and Child” from the School of Ghirlandaio.
Surrounded by green forests, near the Lakes Lungo e Ripasottile Reserve, the Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone at 756 metres above sea level dominates the Valle Santa, offering unique panoramas. It was precisely in Poggio Bustone that St. Francis began to preach with his first six companions, the ones with whom he built the sanctuary. Also open to the public is the refectory where you can find the wooden altar with a shrine dedicated to St. James used by St. Francis and his first followers.
Coming out of the sanctuary, to reach the Tempietto della Pace (Temple of Peace), there is a path lined with the niches of the via crucis, each made of a different material (wood, marble, bronze, ceramics, etc.).
The saint’s visit is remembered here on October 4 with the passage of the “tamburello”, which re-enacts “the good morning to the good people” that the saint wished to all the inhabitants; Easter Monday – with the procession and a stop at the Franciscan Hermitage – and on August 2, with the celebrations of the Festa del Perdono (Celebration of Forgiveness).
For more information: Cammino di Francesco