Among hermitages, abbeys and frescoes The never dormant spirituality of Umbria

In Valnerina exist three abbeys of exceptional religious, historical and artistic value all founded by a group of Syriac hermits arrived in Umbria between the 5th and 6th centuries: San Pietro in Valle it is located in Ferentillo; San Felice and Mauro in Santa Anatolia di Narco; Sant’Eutizio in Preci. This latter abbey has suffered very heavy damage since earthquake 2016. Lost the bell tower, lost the cave of Sant’Eutizio, the facade of the church and other parts of the monastery, says the archaeologist and researcher Sebastiano Torlini. Set in the mountains between Spoleto and Norcia, the Valnerina is still a place of meditation (and rest) today. Majestic abbeys and a hundred hermitages, caves and small hermitages, are witnesses of one spirituality never dormant. They are scattered along the river Black (which gives the valley its name). About twenty, among the most important for historical and religious reasons, are still frequented by the faithful today, says Torlini. A land rich in water the Valnerina (trout are bred on the Nera and the waters feed the waterfall marmore), of woods and turreted villages that have come back to life and shine with the reconstructions following the earthquakes of the last thirty years. Places of silence, invite to prayer and writing for those who never had literary ambitions.

Scabies and sturgeon, heresy and saffron

The remains of two hermits are preserved in the crypt of the majestic abbey of Castel San Felice, Felice and Mauro (the father). They arrived from Syria driven by internal disagreements and stopped in Umbria to devote themselves to the anchorite life and defeat the ferocious dragon that devastated the place with its nauseating breath. The triumph of Felice (who died in June 535) over the terrible animal carved in bas-relief on the facade of the abbey. A metaphor for the victory of Catholicism over heresy. A metaphor for the reclamation of a marshy territory, however, by a nucleus of Benedictine monks. The current church was built in 1190, retouched several times and restored in Romanesque style in 1922 (by the Superintendence of Monuments of the time) and enhanced for the Jubilee 2000. Inside it preserves a cycle of frescoes from the 15th century and a secret: one source where a sturgeon swims. Legend has it that that water is miraculous, women immersed their children in it to heal them from scabies. The small village of Castel San Felice perched on the hill, elegant and white. At the foot they cross the cycle route of the Old Railway with the cycle route of the Nera (or Greenway del Nera). The first follows part of the route of the railway that from 1926 to 1968 united the Umbrian Valley with the Valnerina, serving the villages in the mountains. The second points south, up to the Marmore waterfalls and the capital Terni. They network with the Assisi-Spoleto cycle path in the SN365 projectguidelines for a slow tourism on which young entrepreneurs aim. Luca and Marta Gianpiccolo they produce jams and syrups with a succulent flavor (the elderberry is excellent) that they sell in the family business: Saffron and surroundings. From the fields they get aromatic herbs and flowers, from the garden the vegetables they serve to customers and bikers. The garage has given way to the Valnerina cycling station of which Luke the undisputed king. He deals with the rental and maintenance of MTBs (including electric ones) as well as guiding (certified by the Italian Cycling Federation) for less experienced tourists.

American braggart and flip-flops

There waterfall marmore it is about thirty kilometers away. It can be reached by cycling on the Greenway that runs along the left bank of the Nera. The white road, wide, in good condition with the plus of running 80% in the shade of oaks and poplars. Alessandro Del Gallo one of the SN365 circuit guides. He knows every aspect of the course and the personality of those who put themselves to the test. The Americans they are the most disobedient. They show up with flip-flops and overestimate their abilities – he says -. When they can’t take it anymore, they stop pedaling. To bring them back to the base I have to pull them with the rope. The captivating landscape. Like grapes on a crown, with a lively game of mirrors, villages and turreted hamlets follow one another along the Nera. From Sant’Anatolia di Narco it shows Scheggino (the town crossed by canals like a small Venice and hosts a widespread and bike friendly hotel Torre del Nera), from Scheggino it can be seen Ceselli and so on: Terria, Macenano, Ferentillo, Montefranco (in front of Arrone), Casteldilago, Collestatte and finally Marmore.

The Brancaleone cloister

At Ferentillo you leave the Greenway to enter the state road and turn in the direction of the abbey of San Pietro in Valle. The road climbs and plays with the power of e-MTB, from eco to sport. the most beautiful abbey in Umbria, says Sebastiano Torlini, author of the guide Abbey of San Pietro in Valle (Ciabochi Editore) dedicated to this place of worship loved by the Lombard dukes, lords of Spoleto. Some Roman sarcophagi contain their remains. A legend has it that Faroaldo II received from Saint Peter the order to go to Valnerina to found an abbey in his honor at the point where he would meet Lazarus, a Syrian hermit like Felice and Mauro. To avoid the violent succession, the Lombard dukes began to retire to monastic life and the abbey became the center of their power, Torlini explains. To reveal its richness, a pictorial cycle of the most important of the twelfth century with stories from the Old and New Testament. Perhaps studied by Giotto, inspiration for the frescoes of the Basilica of Assisi, says Torlini. In the image that recalls thearrival of the three Magi, for example, the last one rides a stomping horse, a situation designed to create a perspective effect. The cloister has welcomed several film sets: Marcellino Bread and Wine, Don Matteo, The octopus and Mario Monicelli’s masterpiece Brancaleone’s army with Vittorio Gassman, Catherine Spack and Gian Maria Volont. Today, wedding events and ceremonies are held here, the fulcrum of the charming Relais hotel San Pietro in Valle.

Marmore, the waterfall of lovers

The Greenway ends at the Marmore Falls car park. With his 165 meters among the highest in Europe. It forms at the confluence of the river Velino with the Black and artificial. In 271 BC the Romans began excavating the canal that would have conveyed the waters of the Rieti swamp to the edge of the Marmore cliff, where they would then have fallen with a spectacular fall. Today, the flow of the waterfall is regulated by locks (part of the water is used for the production of hydroelectric energy) which are open at set times to offer especially to lovers a unique and romantic show, possible in the summer months even at night.

The holy water of Popoli

The tourist who aims Norcia may be saddened by the still evident wounds caused by the 2016 earthquake Basilica dedicated to St. Benedict supported by scaffolding and from the rose window you can see the sky. In the city however, the pilgrims to undertake a I walk in the footsteps of the Saint, 300 km through Umbria and Lazio to the border with Campania. An itinerary in 16 stages that unites the three most important Benedictine places: Norcia (where the saint was born), Subiaco (where he lived more than thirty years) e Monte Cassino (where he wrote the Rule). In the countryside a few kilometers from Norcia, it is located Peoples, a few houses and a sign indicating the right way: For the path of San Benedetto always straight. Between 65 steps on the left there is a fountain with the holy water of Popoli. Welcome and have a good trip.

September 13, 2022 (change September 13, 2022 | 17:52)


Among hermitages, abbeys and frescoes The never dormant spirituality of Umbria