Last week, for first time in my life, I did a working-pilgrimage with my friend Francesco. We went to the Parco delle Foreste Casentinese, in Eastern Tuscany, and marked the itinerary with a GPS.
We departed Florence at 5 am and reached the church of Vallombrosa in time for the 8 am Holy Mass. At the end of the celebration, the priest gave us “credentials”. This is a kind of pilgrim’s passport, a booklet with stamps of the churches and hospitals as testimonial of the holy pilgrimage.
With the blessing of our Lord and with a HEAVY back pack on our shoulders we started out by foot to the Pieve di Romena… our destination for the night, 30 km ahead of us!! Swollen in the dark fir forest along a mountain path with a steep-STEEP ASCENT we climbed for about 600 meters and started our adventure…
Part of an ancient pathway, with pebbled terrain, this was a portion of roads which date as far back as the year 1200. Along this path Florentine troops eventually attacked and defeated Aretine troops in the plane of Campaldino.
The first night we arrived as the sun went down at the Pieve di Romena. We ate a frugal pilgrim meal next to the church and slept in basic accommodations. However it was a bed with a roof over us and it even had a bathroom…more than can be expected at times! Very happy to have reached this important spiritual goal and too tired even to think about all the rest I crawled under warm bedcovers and dreamed of forests, pathways and trees.
The next day from Pratovecchio – a lovely village on the Arno river and the home town of the artist Paolo Uccello - we climbed up to Eremo di Camaldoli. This was a marvelous hike with great views of the hills which we covered the previous day (called Secchieta). We met a Dutch couple heading to Assisi along the way, predicting to reach the town in 10 days. Our walk led us into the centuries old fir forest and we arrived to the Eremo by 5 pm. Founded by San Romualdo in the year 1012, one can still see the original monks’ cells and in the small sanctuary admire a terracotta masterpiece by the Della Robbia family. After taking our religious credentials we left. We walked along a wooded path and about 30 minutes later reached the Monastery of Camaldoli. This sacred place was founded along the roman road linking Tuscany to Romagna and was known as a “Hospitium”. It still hosts pilgrims, in the present as it did in the past. Camaldoli was also a very important cultural centre, like every Benedictine Monastery. It even had a printing press in the XV century and hosted a notorious Academy in which Lorenzo il Magnifico took part. One of the duties of the order was also to take care of the trees in the forest. In fact the Florentine Republic used wood from this area for city churches and palaces. Next to the church there is an ancient pharmacy with a small museum. On display are antique jars and stone and terracotta laboratory equipment, which was used to make natural essences and medical remedies 600 years ago. It is an interesting piece of memory in this field.
Well if you would like to get to know more, I’ll keep posted. My pilgrimage will continue up to Assisi. Let me tell you this is a warm up, a piece of cake compared to the pilgrimage I am organizing to Santiago di Compostela in Spain… That will only be 800 km!