In 1224, on a rocky outcrop near where the Sanctuary of La Verna stands today, in the Arezzo area, Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, the five wounds of the crucified Jesus. On the occasion of the eighth centenary of that event, the community of the Friars Minor of the Sanctuary and the Study Center for Sacred Architecture of the Lercaro Foundation of Bologna, in collaboration with the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna, they decided to build a new, small prayer chapel right in the Verna wood.
To carry out the project, 30 young designers, architects and building engineers will be selected to propose their ideas in a competition announced for the occasion. From today, Thursday 1 December, and until 15 January 2023 there is the possibility of applying: participants must be at most 40 years old.
However, it will not be a classic competition of ideas. In fact, the 30 selected designers, before presenting their proposals, will have to participate in a compulsory training course, which will begin in March and end in June 2023. The laboratory is divided into six study days in Bologna, with lectures and visits to churches and chapels of the territory, to which are added two strong moments in La Verna, lasting three days each, at the beginning and at the end of the itinerary, with the aim of inserting the architectural proposal within the spirituality of the place, with a attention to the search for oneself and for the relationship with God and with nature. The projects must be presented by 3 October 2023 and the winner will be known on the 18th of that same month. The works for the actual construction of the chapel are scheduled for February 2024, ending in June. All the projects, in addition to the winner, will be exhibited in an exhibition at the headquarters of the Lercaro Foundation in Bologna which will be inaugurated on 19 October 2023. To support this proposal also financially, a consortium of entrepreneurial realities met who supported the project. Among them are theLawyer Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the Lebole-Banci family, Mauro and Laura Magni. There are then the Baracchi Foundation and some businesses in the Arezzo area such as SEM.AR Tremagi, Chimet and TreEmme. And then there is Devotio, the expo of products and services for the religious world, held in Bologna every two years. The work will therefore be possible thanks to their contribution. “The friars of La Verna and the whole world are about to celebrate the eighth centenary of the Stigmata of St. Francis, which he received right on this mountain. says friar Francesco Brasa, Guardian Father of the Sanctuary– 2024 will be a year of many pastoral, cultural and artistic initiatives. But we also wanted to leave a sign of this anniversary in the physiognomy of this mountain. And so we thought of doing this course and this competition for architects, to create a new prayer space in the sacred wood of La Verna, thus bringing the world of architecture and art closer to the world of spirituality in a dialogue of mutual enrichment”.
In eight centuries, the presence of the Friars Minor on Mount La Verna “he gave birth to a large sanctuary that developed in harmony with the surrounding nature, continues Father Brasa. For the eighth centenary, however, we wanted to return to the great open-air sanctuary, which is this sacred forest, bringing the visitors of the new millennium back to the fundamental experience lived by Saint Francis, the silence in this hermitage. We would therefore like this place, which we will design together with the young architects, to be an open space for the experience of this ocean of silence which envelops us, but which brings us a word. The word that changed the life of Francis of Assisi, which led him to be a saint and a fully successful man. For this reason, after eight centuries, Francis still speaks to everyone’s heart: religious, atheist, of other spiritualities. But everything is born here, in this inhabited silence, which we would like would also conform with this new architecture, to give back to today’s men this experience that touches, enriches and transforms”.This project “he wants to ensure that a space of prayer is also a space of great architectural and spiritual richness- explains Claudia Manenti, head of the Study Center for Sacred Architecture of the Lercaro Foundation– we want architecture, spirituality and the Verna forest to come together to give an experience to people who are in search of silence, a relationship with God and closeness to nature”. The idea of the chapel in the woods comes from the experience of the ‘Vatican chapels’, proposed by the Vatican for the 2018 Architecture Biennale, which saw the creation of several chapels in Venice designed by internationally renowned architects. “From that experience we asked ourselves how to make not only good architecture, but a suitable place for prayer and personal meditation”, Manenti explains again. In La Verna, over the centuries, small hermitages and small chapels have been built scattered in the woods. Hence the idea of creating a new structure was born, says Manenti, “in a beautiful place that invites meditation and spiritual experience, in the wake of what St. Francis experienced in that place”. The chapel, which will be dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, must be maximum of 25 square meters, made with shapes and materials that can dialogue with the surrounding nature and with the nearby Sanctuary. A small altar, a lectern and seats must be provided inside. There are no images to insert, but a suitable space can be left to place a possible work in the future. The space around the chapel can be equipped with pergolas, seats and other structures which do not increase the surface area, but which are useful prepare the traveler for an atmosphere of spirituality and recollection. In addition to the chapel, a small pillar will also have to be built, at the beginning of the path called “Cammino del Cardinale”, and a Via Crucis to mark the path that leads to the place of prayer. “The context of the sanctuary is very rich in history and works of art – underlines Manenti – therefore we wanted to add something, but without entering into disharmony with the existing one. For this reason, an area affected by a climatic turbulence that uprooted the trees was chosen a few years ago. So now it is a forest in regrowth and this new chapel therefore wants to be an experience of spiritual rebirth, in a place where the forest is reclaiming the territory”. The Study Center for Sacred Architecture of the Lercaro Foundation in Bologna was founded in 2008 and has been carrying out research, training and workshops for 15 years aimed at priests, architects and planners. The Study Center is interested in grasping the role and effectiveness of a liturgical and prayer space in today, with various initiatives proposed each year. Enrollment in the laboratory-competition must take place through pre-registration by filling in the announcement form available on the site www.fondazionelercaro.it/centrostudi and sending the completed form and a book of projects (also carried out in the course of study) to the email firstname.lastname@example.org . The results of the evaluation of the projects by the competition commission will be made public on 18 October 2023 on the website of the Centro Studi per l’architettura sacra at the address www.fondazionelercaro.it/centro-studi and communicated via email to all participants in the competition. The secretariat of the Study Center for Sacred Architecture answers for information on 3312929003. The initiative is promoted by the Community of the Friars Minor of the La Verna Franciscan Sanctuary and the Study Center for Sacred Architecture – Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro Foundation, in collaboration with the Parco delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona and Campigna. With the patronage of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, the National Office for ecclesiastical cultural heritage and religious buildings of the Italian Episcopal Conference, the Diocese of Arezzo-Cortona-Sansepolcro, the Diocese of Bologna, the Municipality of Chiusi della Verna, the Order of Architects of Bologna, Giovanni Michelucci Foundation, San Fedele Cultural Foundation.