Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone
‘Good morning, good people!’ It was summer 1208 when Saint Francis arrived with six friends to the village of Poggio Bustone, then under the control of Farfa’s Benedictine Abbey, greeting its inhabitants with these exact words. They had just left Assisi, their hometown, where their new lifestyle was not accepted yet and people were reluctant to help them. Historians like Irish Luke Wadding have confirmed that for St. Francis Poggio Bustone was the first stop in Rieti’s region: since then, the Franciscan friars have considered the Holy Valley as their second home, preaching poverty, peace and penitence.
Today, nature here is still very similar to the one which welcomed the saint and his companions, unaltered in its beauty and spirituality. When he was in Poggio Bustone, he used to pray alone inside a tiny cave surrounded by dense woods, the ‘Sacro Speco’: there, God sent for him an angel, who confirmed that all the sins he had committed in youth had been pardoned. In Poggio Bustone it was also foretold that his Order would have a huge following, starting from the village itself. For sure, Francis caught the attention of the local people when, mortified, he confessed to an astonished crowd that he had eaten lard during Lent.
Over the Sacro Speco, also known as the ‘Cave of Revelations’, they built in the 15th century a small church retracing the history of the Franciscan Order, whereas a 30-minute walk through the woods leads to St. James’ Sanctuary: together with the ones in Greccio, Fontecolombo and La Foresta, it represents one of the four Franciscan sanctuaries in Rieti’s Holy Valley. August 2nd is a holiday dedicated to forgiveness, the ‘Festa del Perdono’, where everyone can join a long procession towards Poggio Bustone’s Sanctuary. Along the path between the cave and the sanctuary you will see, among colorful pansies and majestic maples, six tiny chapels erected in 1650: according to legend, the first one contains the stone upon which St. Francis placed his breviary, whereas the others enclose, respectively, the mark of his hood, of his elbow, of the devil, of St. Francis’ foot and of an angel.
The convent, next to which is the little Temple of Peace with a statue of St. Francis, overlooks a large square and includes a single-nave church erected during the 15th century, a cloister with pillars dating back to the 13th century, and the Pilgrims’ Refectory with its two frescoes: one depicts the Last Supper, the other the Virgin Mary with Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.
In the church, dedicated to Saint James the Great, thanks to a recent restoration work a fresco from the 17th century has been rediscovered where the castle and village of Poggio Bustone can be seen behind St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua. The sanctuary also hosts a wooden cross blackened by smoke during the Second World War.