Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Poggio Bustone

Poggio Bustone: A Spectacular View Overlooking the Sacred Valley

Poggio Bustone
Situated at an altitude of 756 m above sea level, Poggio Bustone dominates the Sacred Valley offering a view and panorama of breathtaking beauty. In the 12 th century, it was owned by the Farfa Abbey. It was later conquered by the Normans and at the end of the 12th century it became part of the territory governed by the city of Rieti.
Parts of the defensive structures that protected the town in the past centuries can still be seen today. Especially fascinating is the Porta del Buongiorno (Gate of the Good Day). Local legend narrates that Saint Francis entered this gate with his greeting of: “Good day good people”.

There are four Franciscan shrines in the Valle di Rieti –  Greccio, Fonte Colombo, La Foresta and Poggio Bustone. Now we need to put on good walking boots to climb into the mountains if we are to continue our pilgrimage on to Poggio Bustone.
Even today it is remote, situated in a valley among craggy mountains … above the small village. It was to this place that Francis came in the summer of 1208 following his very public renunciation of his father who was a leading businessman in Assisi. Francis had been joined by six men from Assisi, some prominent, and they lived together as brothers near the little church of the Portiuncula in great simplicity and poverty. But they were social outcasts as people did not understand their sudden change in lifestyle. Francis needed direction: what was he to do now that he had his first followers? He left Assisi and went with his six companions to the Rieti Valley and climbed to Poggio Bustone.
Grotto of the RevelationHigh on a rocky ledge Francis found two caves close to a Benedictine Monastery, far removed from the busy routine of daily life. He prayed there alone, fasting. The cave in which Francis prayed is called the Grotto of the Revelation. Here during his prayer, Francis was assured that his sins had been forgiven, and that his brethren, the Penitents of Assisi, would grow in number.
This is a picturesque account of his arrival in the actual town of Poggio Bustone as told by Hyacinth Blocker ofm:
As (Francis) entered the village and swung down the main street, many of the people were just getting up and preparing to go to work in their hillside vineyards and terraced farms. More than likely they thought they were still dreaming when they saw this stranger in their midst, his thin, wiry body covered with a rough tunic, held together indifferently at the waist with a piece of knotted rope. We can easily picture the shutters flying open like umbrellas, heads popping out of the windows and necks craning with curiosity. We can picture doors being pulled ajar and uncombed, tousled heads peering around the corners, followed by shivering bodies in rumpled night clothes. We can see the many dark eyes dilating with wonder and hear the note of puzzlement in the buzz of excited voices. “Who’s that funny little fellow out there in the street?” they were probably saying.
Francis, with a large, disarming grin, waved his hands informally to everyone, from one side of the street to the other, and sang out cheerily, “Good morning, good people!”
The peasants of Poggio Bustone have never forgotten that first bright greeting of the poverello. Even today, over 800 years later, near the centre of the village you will find a stone slab, green now with moss and mildewed with age, commemorating the coming of Francis. In faded, dimly legible letters, it says simply:
Good morning, good people, the rousing greeting of Saint Francis when he entered Poggio Bustone in 1209. In Franciscan history, this sanctuary is remembered for the following reasons:
  • as the place of pardon – since here Francis sought forgiveness for the sins of his past life
  • as a place of revelation – because it was here that Francis received direction for the future of the Order, and
  • as the place of departure on the first mission of the Franciscan Order.  

In recent times a small Temple of Peace has been built at Poggio Bustone and in the apse of the little church there is a statue of St Francis smiling and stepping forward. Nearby, commemorating the original focus of Franciscan Missionary activity, is the following inscription:
St Francis of Assisi departing from this mountain in the winter of 1209 called to himself his first companions and said to them:
“Go, beloved brothers,
two by two
through the diverse parts of the earth,
announcing peace to men.”

Blocker ofm, Hyacinth, Good Morning Good People – Reflections on the Spiritual Life, The Montel Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, Second Printing 1951
Fusarelli ofm, Massimo, Guide to the Sanctuaries of the Rieti Valley, Manconi, Genova