Green power: Camaldoli and its hermitage (by Marì R.)
There are places in the world that are able to move the deepest strings of the soul.
Follow me today, I want to show you a new place. Il Casentino is a less touristy area of Tuscany, not as well known as other places in the region
It’s made up of small towns and mountains (the Appennini). Here one can find hidden treasures: Camaldoli is one of them.
Camaldoli dates back to 1000 B.C. At that time a monk, Romualdo, was travelling in the region. He came from Ravenna and was enchanted by the beauty of the forest, so much so that he decided to stay and founded a hermitage.
After a few years, a convent was built further down in the valley , in a place called Fonte Bono where there was a hospital and a dispensary to help pilgrims. Here, monks learned how to live the monastic life.
I park my car with a specific idea in mind. While driving I have decided to try following the walk that monks must have done for centuries up to the Hermitage high above. I know that the convent, the church, the old pharmacy, all deserve a visit, but not today.
Silence and the forest
I put my rucksack on my shoulders and off I go. Step by step I leave people, cars and noise behind.
Finally there is not even a background noise to be heard, I am alone among the trees.
The forest is magnificent; chestnut trees, oaks and silver firs. The sunlight filtered through this deep green canopy is absolutely amazing. I can’t resist… I have to stop to enjoy the light filtering through the leaves. It is a powerful image; in an instant of clarity I understand what Hildegard of Bingen meant by the word “viriditas”.
It’s a feeling of fullness, of deep richness inside yourself. It is a deep connection with all living creatures (plants and animals). This connection lasted for quite a long moment and then, all of the sudden, it was gone.
I continue my walk uphill light hearted. The forest becomes thick and tree trunks run as far as my eye can see. A light wind is blowing, making the trees sway gently. In the deep silence, the voices of the trees reach me and move my heart. I stop and listen…and then I hear another sound, like a child’s laughter. It is the sound of water happily flowing. The sounds mingle together in an enchanting song that tells all the secret stories of the extraordinary woods.
The bright sun highlights the most ancient tree of all the forest: behold the Miraglia Chestnut. Miraglia was the name of a lady that, at the beginning of last century, used to spend many afternoons under the deep shadow of this green giant tree , reading or stitching. This chestnut is about 400 years old and it is probably one of the few survivors of the ancient chestnut trees planted by the monks.
Ora et Labora
From the very beginning, this monastic community had a close connection with the forest. They constantly took care of it, century after century. They followed and, still do, St Benedict’s rule ” Ora et Labora” (pray and work) and they collect wood to sell and chestnuts to eat during the long cold winters. They care so much for the woods that they wrote the first Italian ” Forest Regulation Code ” ( Codice Forestale) in 1520 A.C.
The summa of this Code could be that they had to take good care of the woods and regularly plant new trees to enlarge the forest. This golden rule has been followed by the wise monks that planted 3000-4000 trees each year.
After a long walk finally I reached Camaldoli Hermitage .
All the buildings are surrounded by a stone wall as well as a much higher green-wall of tall firs. It’s beautiful.
Here, during the centuries, some monks have chosen a withdrawn life concentrating on prayers and hard work.
Walking inside the silence welcomes me. Everything is simple and clean. I am attracted by the main door. This door is quite recent, being made in 2013 for the 1000 years anniversary of the Hermitage foundation.
Seven special trees
The door’s inner side is like a book where the virtues of good monks are written and named after trees. Seven trees are mentioned:
Citron for sanctity and sincerity
Acacia for admonition and penitence
Myrtle for discretion and temperance
Olive tree for joy, peace and mercy
Fir for meditation and wisdom
Elm for support and patience
Box for humility and perseverance.
I look at the façade: it is simple and elegant, and inside there is a surprise. The single nave is covered by an overly rich baroque, so inadequate to a hermitage, I feel!
But forget the baroque; St Antony’s chapel contains a real masterpiece: a magnificent ” invetriata” by Mastro Andrea della Robbia. This beauty is in complete harmony with the place . The white figures seem to recall the spiritual purity of the community and the light blue background is the colour of the sky that benevolently still looks over us all.
Don’t miss a trip to this unique place. A walk surrounded by so much beauty is going to be good for body and soul.