If you want to learn more about the strong bond between the Patron Saint of Italy and the Emilia-Romagna region, your starting point cannot but be the paths that Francis himself and his followers covered during their frequent pilgrimages between La Verna and Rimini. Crossing the entire Valmarecchia valley and the Montefeltro area through century-old villages and breath-taking views, today this route is commonly known as Saint Francis’ Way.
For years, Saint Francis used this route, which follows ancient communication routes and shares much of the way with the Saint Vicinius’ Way, to spread his message from central to northern Italy. This is why walking along the Saint Francis’ Way or just visiting its main sites is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see some of the places that St Francis visited in his lifetime and find new sources of inspiration.
This exciting journey in the footsteps of St Francis starts in Rimini, a stone’s throw from the sea: here you will find evidence of the Saint’s presence in Tempio Malatestiano (the Malatesta Temple), the magnificent Cathedral designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti. Dating back to the Renaissance, the Cathedral, best known for a splendid crucifix attributed to Giotto, was built around a much older Gothic church dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Another place in Rimini linked to St Francis and definitely worth a visit is Tempietto di Sant’Antonio, which was built in the 16th century on the very spot where, according to legend, the Miracle of the Mule took place. Tradition has it that one day during the offertory, as Saint Anthony was preaching to the faithful a local peasant deliberately walked past him, whereas his mule stopped in its tracks and knelt before the Saint and the Holy Sacrament.
From here, the second stop is Verucchio, a picturesque medieval town where you can visit the Monastery of Santa Croce, the oldest Franciscan site in the Emilia-Romagna region. According to tradition, in May 1213 during his trip from Rimini to San Leo, Francis of Assisi stopped here to rest and planted his walking stick in the ground, where it took root and grew into a cypress. After St Francis' death, his followers built a monastery in this wonderful place, where one can still see the impressive, century-old cypress of the legend.
The third stop is the Church and Monastery of Sant’Igne, a haven of peace and a prime example of Romanesque architecture. The small monastery, which is no longer inhabited by friars, is located a stone’s throw from the spur of San Leo along the road from Tausano. According to legend, one dark and stormy night Saint Francis was on his way to San Leo when he came to a clearing—the same clearing where they would build the Monastery of Sant’Igne in 1244—and saw a dim light that guided him and got him to his destination safe and sound. It was in San Leo that Count Orlando Cattani of Chiusi gave Francis the unusual present of a mountain—Mount La Verna.
Aside from the Monastery, the Pieve of Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral and the world-famous Fortress of San Leo are also worth a visit.
The picturesque village of Sant'Agata Feltria, known for its splendid castle that looks like something out of a fairytale, is the fourth stop of the itinerary. Here, in 1575 the Fregoso family established a Capuchin Monastery, which today is open to visitors and to anyone looking for a quiet place to meditate, study, and pray.
Last but not least, the Hermitage of Sant'Alberico is a place of pervasive spirituality. Saint Francis allegedly stopped here on his way to Mount La Verna as he walked along the trail that used to connect the monastery of Cella di San Giovanni Battista, the hermitage of Sant’Alberico, and the village of Balze. Surrounded by pristine nature at 1147 meters above sea level, the Hermitage still welcomes all those who wish to spend some time in prayer or quiet reflection.