Henri Craemer | Stage 6, Part 2: An Altered State Experience in Santuario della Verna
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Stage 6, Part 2: An Altered State in Santuario Della Verna

26 August 2017. Rimbocchi seems to be a crossroad for a number of places – Badia Prataglia and La Verna being two. We see a number of cyclists passing through. Cycling seems to be very popular in Italy. The occasional group of around five bikers also pass through. At around 11:00, it’s a breakfast run for them.

There is a little bar/café in Rimbocchi.  We sit in the porch with a view of the town. In spite of feeling worn out by the first part of the day’s hike, I feel good about the progress we’ve made. Niels and I each have an espresso with bread and cold meats. I add two 2 litres of frizzante, and he has two beers. From where we sit we have a clear view of the ascent ahead of us. Poggio Montopoli will be very hard work.

The bridge where we entered Rimbocchi (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

 

We set off through the quiet streets, and find our first waymark relatively quickly. Just outside town we cross a river. For the first time on The St Francis Way, we meet two other pilgrims. They’re headed for Florence. There is talk of what the route is like ahead for us. It sounds very challenging.

 

Ascending Poggio Montopoli

The path leads into thick beech woods. The ascent up Poggio Montopoli soon becomes very steep. Initially, I manage quite well. However, I soon tire. I try my hardest to keep moving. I remember a YouTube video where the advice is to take small steps. For me, that amounts to barely putting one foot in front of the other. This is the best I can do, given the gradient of the ascent.

Niels goes ahead and waits for me at various points along the route. The occasional clearing presents stunning vistas. I take a few photos. Rimbocchi is getting smaller almost with every step I take.

The view as we ascended Poggio Montopoli. The bridge where we entered Rimbocchi is barely visible to the left of the main road. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

 

After one of the breaks Niels says, “I can’t walk the path for you.”

A couple of catch-ups later I come up with a reply, “Very true, but you also can’t rest for me either.” I am stopping less, but when I do, I can hear blood whooshing in my head.

The ascent takes the better part of two hours. The relief of the path leveling off is palpable. We speed up considerably.

A Waymark on the trail to La Verna. They are often painted on relatively thin tree trunks like this, and their actual size is seldom bigger than one’s hand. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

 

Just before we cross the Strada Provinciale, we come to a clearing where a number of backpackers are resting. Some of them are naked. Not wanting to disturb them we simply carry on without a word.

 

Santuario Della Verna

We cross the road and soon enter the forest around La Verna. This is regarded as one of the most spiritual and holiest places in Italy. In none of the previous places on this trip have I been so conscious of an association with St Francis a particular area. There are many places where monks can meditate – caves, crags, and makeshift shelters. One can easily imagine St Francis in deep contemplation and prayer.

Shelter for prayer and meditation in Santuario della Verna (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

Niels goes on ahead. Soon I’m alone in the woods. I take in its beauty. It resonates within my soul.

My awareness becomes completely overwhelmed by an immense sense of vast Presence. I stop and open myself to God in prayer. Everything is so vibrant, with such a strong flow of Spiritual Energy that I feel completely uplifted.

There is a very simple Kabbalistic rite called Noten Kavod, i.e. giving respect. I stand for a while. Lifting my arms I give respect to everything that surrounds me. I can feel a very intense flow of the Lord’s Energy as I make this acknowledgment. It’s as if my entire being links to everything around me. The entire forest shines with Divine Presence. Then there is a return flow from the surrounds that amazes me. It almost lifts me off my feet.

When meditation works well, this altered state of awareness can be achieved anywhere. However, for this to happen so spontaneously is something truly special. In all the places I’ve ever been my entire life, this is one of very few where I’ve had this experience in such an unconstrained way. It is easy to believe in God in a place like this, because the experience is so unfettered by human petulance, and saturated with Divine Energy.

Santuario Della Verna on its rock foundation (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

 

At the base of the La Verna Monastery, we take photos. It is perched on the edge of a huge rock massif on Mt Penna

On the last stretch, we have a slight miscalculation of our route. We spend some time on the road before we arrive at our inn, not too long after 15:00.

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