RIETI - The Sacred Valley of Saint Francis
"Saint Francis and his Sacred Vale of Rieti"
There are few casual tourists here - Rieti is a destination for pilgrims who yearn to experience the legends of Saint Francis. While acceptance of the legends is obligatory upon none, the miracle now might lie in the regard and devotion which marks this path of goodness with shrines - grottos which have drawn pilgrims since the early days of Saint Francis nearly 800 years ago.
Like the Vale of Spoleto, the Vale of Rieti was once a lake floor - it is much higher up and much smaller so that its mountains seem to embrace it in an oval ring. High on the mountain slopes, guarding it as if they were outposts, stand the hermitages that Francis founded - each holding its proud and unique legend: Greccio, Fonte Colombo, La Foresta, and Poggio Bustone.
I experienced first-hand, both within the monasteries and without, among the local people, the smiling courtesy, simple fidelity and virile authenticity.
It is fitting, indeed, that St Francis found his follower, the knight Angelo Tancredi, here in Rieti. He was the first nobleman to join the Order, remained near Francis’ side and was present when the Saint received the stigmata on Mount Verna. In St. Francis’ two final pain-filled years of life, Angelo Tancredi became his personal guardian. The brotherly love and friendship they shared was so intense that St. Francis wanted him and Friar Leo with him at the hour of his death. The bond between Angelo and St. Francis is apparant by their tombs: both men rest in the Basilica of Assisi not far from each other.
"The Rieti of St Francis is the Rieti of today"
The pilgrimage continues today as it did during the Middle Ages: a profound testimony of faith and an exchange between different cultures. The four Franciscan Sanctuaries that are situated within this natural amphitheatre together form a cross.
Many reasons lead Saint Francis to Rieti and one of them is surely the breathtaking charm of its nature. When taking the Walk, you will be enraptured by the pure, uncontaminated beauty of the landscape that has not changed greatly since Francis walked upon it.
The territory is fascinating, an oasis of wild beauty that has kept itself intact over the centuries: from the Franciscan Sanctuaries filled with mysticism, to the castles; from the villages that tell of their ancient cultural heritage and traditions which have never been abandoned, to the boundless expanse of olive groves; to the now gentle, now steep slopes of the inaccessible mountains.
"Lakes of Rieti"
The Sacred Valley was originally occupied by an enormous lake, Lake Velino. In 271 B.C., the Romans reclaimed the land. The only evidence left of that great expanse of water is the enchanting Lakes Lungo and Ripasottile Natural Reserve. Here, among the thick reeds and white water lilies, you can admire egrets, grey herons, mallards and many other wildlife.