25 Mar Stage 13: Good Going to Biscina
5 September 2017, 07:00. We are locked and loaded. Our breakfast is perfect, apart from the fact that we have it way too quick for my liking. “I don’t believe in breakfast” – Niels’ own words. So, I am grateful that I have a little time to indulge. We pack lunch because this is one of the longest stretches of the hike where there are the fewest amenities.
Today we’ll be walking through an area that was of importance to St Francis soon after deciding to follow his calling. On occasions when he was confronted by bandits, the Saint proclaimed himself “herald of the Great King.”
An Easy Start
It feels a bit cooler in comparison to yesterday as we set out. For nearly four km the walk is completely uneventful. We hike out of Gubbio along an easy completely flat level road, flanked by farmlands. At Ponte d’ Assisi we start walking along the highway. Soon after, we head into the hills and leave the highway behind. I stop and look back at Gubio. It is definitely one of the most beautiful small towns I’ve ever visited.
The Shrine of the Madonna della Grazie
This is the first landmark of interest to me. The path leading there takes us through a beautiful cool thick forest. All the shrines I’ve seen mostly have crucifixes and rosaries hanging from it. However, the Shrine of the Madonna della Grazie has so many trinkets and other items that one can barely see past the entrance. I go up close and look at the faded murals inside. We stop long enough for me to drink in the peace.
It’s about a half hour climb before we get to the Eremo di San Pietro. The forest provides ideal walking conditions.
It’s a short but steepish climb before we get to the Eremo di San Pietro, but it’s well worth it. As I enter the grounds I am struck by the serene simplicity and beauty of the gardens. We meet with the residents who offer us a variety of liquid refreshments. I settle for water from the well.
Then I set off to look at the chapel, which leads off a beautiful courtyard. Not all the extensions were added at the same time. Because the Benedictines used materials from the ruins of a pagan temple nearby to construct the Eremo, and the manner in which the extensions were added, it has a seamless appearance.
The Chapel has stained glass windows and 15th century frescoes. Two pilgrim jackets from the Camino de Santiago Compostela hang next to the entrance.
There are similarities between Pieve di Saddi. Yet the experience is completely different. I do experience a sense of peace and solitude, but it’s not quite as profound. Perhaps I was too rushed to let it really sink in.
A half hour after leaving the Eremo, we come in sight of what could possibly be a landmark close to our day’s destination across the Chiascio Valley: Biscina Castle. Knowing how these paths crisscross everything, I am fully aware that sighting something does not mean getting there soon. Looking at the map and the distance indicators in the book, my guess is that we have an ETA of around 14:30.
Our next landmark is the Chiesa del Caprignoni. This is where the Franciscan Order gathered in June of 1223 to discuss the new Rule. It was later approved by Pope Honorius III as the Solet Annuere.
We cross a creek. I can see how this could be tricky when there is more rain. As it is, Italy is experiencing a very dry summer.
Then it’s up the poggio again. What truly amazes me is seeing mountain bike tracks on the path, especially because it’s a very difficult climb. Someone must have been along it since the recent rain. Was the person riding the bike, or pushing it? By the depth of the impression I would not be surprised if he cycled up the hill.
Progress is at a reasonable speed. I pass the place where Zanna lives – a fearsome large black dog who doesn’t like pilgrims walking with sticks. According to Sandy Brown’s book, this allows one to have your own St Francis-and-the-wolf moment. Even though the critter is behind a fence it is clear this is no dog to mess with. As per instruction in the book, I softly call Zanna’s name, and all is good.
Lulled into a sense of expectation of resting soon I carry on. I meet Niels where gravel meets the asphalt road. We start looking for Tenuta di Biscina where we are to stay tonight.