“Good day, good people!”
According to tradition, Francis greeted the people of Poggio Bustone with these words the first time he stopped in the town on the slopes of the Apennines.
Luca Wadding, the famous 17th century Franciscan historian wrote about Francis’arrival in Poggio Bustone in 1209. He described how Francis and his companions, who were being persecuted, were in search of a hospitable place and found it in Poggio Bustone.
Climbing the road that leads to the hermitage, one rediscovers the simplicity and joy of this greeting enveloped by the same untouched nature that Saint Francis saw and loved. The Sanctuary is surrounded by verdant woods and looks out onto a mystic panorama: the Sacred Valley and the splendid Lakes Lungo and
Ripasottile Natural Reserve to the north.
The oldest hagiographers of Francis indicate his first presence in the Rieti valley near Poggio Bustone. Saint Francis stopped here to pray in a secluded grotto in the woods. It was here that he had the vision of the total remission of his past sins. And it was in Poggio Bustone that he predicted the extension of his Order and made the prophecy that his mission of peace would begin from here.
As was his custom, the precarious accommodations he found were near Poggio so that he could preach to the people of the village. Further proof of Saint Francis’ presence in Poggio Bustone involves a public confession he made. A crowd gathered near the hermitage to hear a sermon by the Ragged Saint. The people were stunned to hear a mortified Francis confess to eating food seasoned with lard during Lent.
The upper hermitage can be identified by the little church embedded under a rocky mass and hidden by the woods. During Saint Francis’ time, it was a simple grotto. The first building dates to the beginning of the 14th century and it adopted a single nave covered by a barrel vault.
Two periods can be identified within the church, a 14th century part that surrounds a 17th century altar. This space was discovered in 1947 and it may establish the first Franciscan settlement in the area.
The lower hermitage is the actual church and convent of Saint James. The upper hermitage is reached by a thirty-minute walk on a path through a wood of Holm oaks, Maple trees and Hornbeams that culminates in an enchanted location made holy by the presence of Saint Francis.
Around the year 1650, six chapels were erected commemorating the miracles that took place here and passed on through popular legend.
The first chapel houses the rock upon which the Saint laid his bible when a storm was about to strike: as soon as he placed the book down, the stone melted as if it were made of wax.
The second chapel was built on the site where Saint Francis sat leaning against a rock on which the print of his hood can still be seen.
The third chapel houses the imprint of the Saint’s elbow, the fourth is
dedicated to the apparition of the devil and to the imprint he left on the rock.
The fifth chapel preserves Saint Francis’ footprint and the sixth the imprint of an angel.
Going towards the lower hermitage, the Votive Temple built by Carlo Alberto Carpiceci rises near the clearing of the convent. It commemorates the mission of peace that the Saint began from Poggio Bustone.
Near the door we find the words Saint Francis left his disciples, “Go forth modestly, two and two, and proclaim peace to all men”. Inside there is a statue of the Saint by Lorenzo Ferri.
The convent church is dedicated to Saint James the Major. The front opens from a portico that was reconstructed in 1951 according to a design by Alberto Carpiceci. The church was erected in the 14th century and was renovated several times. During the 17th century two chapels were opened, one dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua and the second to Saint Francis. The last intervention took place after the 1948 earthquake.
The interior of the church is austere. It has a single nave covered by a trussed
roof. The apse, on the other hand, is covered by an elegant cross vault. Due to the particular architectural elements (brackets and ribs) used to build the church, historians have dated its construction to the first decade of the 14th century.
Along the right wall a 15th century tablet depicts the Madonna with Child and Saint Joseph. On the same wall, a 17th century fresco of a Pope between Saint Francis and Saint Anthony of Padua resurfaced during restoration work following the 1948 earthquake. Behind them is an interesting representation of the Poggio Bustone Castle that allows us to reconstruct the ancient urban layout of the village: it was surrounded by walls, dominated by towers and a belfry, and
had two entrance gates.
The cloister is located on the right of the church and the convent is built around
it. A small portico with pilasters and columns that was incorporated in the cloister is what remains of the original structure. One wall of the cloister preserves a painting of the Madonna with Child, a precious and exquisite 15th century work from the Umbrian school.
The pilgrim’s refectory, decorated with two 17th century paintings of the Last Supper and the Virgin Mary between Saint Francis and Saint Claire, offers an interesting view.