The Sacro Speco of St Francis
The Convent of Sacro Speco is set among magnificent woods,within Sant’Urbano area- in the outskirts of Narni. This Franciscan site,full of a profound sense of peace, includes the original Hermitage,founded by the Benedictines around the year 1000, the convent wanted by San Bernardino da Siena in memory of the St Francis and the rooms dating back to the period in which Francis lived in this site,built next to the cave where Francesco retired to pray in solitude. This cave that has become sacred identifies the Sanctuary,so much so that it bears its name. Francis, accompanied by some of his friars, arrived at the Hermitage of Sant’Urbano in 1213; the small community began to gather to praise the Lord in the small oratory of San Silvestro, built by the Benedictine monks in the 11th century. The apse of this small church, which was the main place of prayer of the congregation of the Speco until the second half of the sixteenth century,preserves a fresco of the fourteenth century depicting the Crucifix with Mary and St. John the Evangelist on one side and St. Francis and St. Silvestro from the 'other. The cistern located behind the apse evokes the miracle performed by Francis during his stay. Thomas of Celano in the "Treatise on Miracles" tells that the saint,as was sick,turned the water drawn from the cistern into wine with the blessing and that he recovered in a short time after drinking it. In the lower part of the Sanctuary there are also the structures built in the 15th century: from this century it is the cloister, the simple Refectory with the original tables and on the upper floor the austere cells of the convent that San Bernardino da Siena founded to house the novices and where the Franciscan preacher himself lived. The small church at the entrance to the complex was built at the end of the 16th century at the same time as the convent was enlarged; in this small vaulted room a wooden crucifix from the 16th century stands out.
Going up an path that opens into the wood of centuries-old trees,you reach the cave of St Francis and the oratory dedicated to him. Two frescoes on the walls of this small church tell of the miracle of wine. In the next to cell, is the bed in which the “Poverello” rested during the period of his illness. One night to relieve his suffering,an angel appeared on the rock that stands in front of the cell and began to play the cittern so that the rock was called "Angel's column". But to keep alive the memory of the presence of the “Seraphic” is perhaps above all the majestic chestnut tree that rises on the lawn. Tradition has it that it began to sprout at the point where the Saint planted his stick before leaving. Each year it offers its fruits to the pilgrims who come to the Sanctuary.
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