“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore, per sor’aqua,
la quale è multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta…”
The water mentioned by Francis in The Canticle of the Creatures, also known as The Song of Friar Sun and Sister Luna, the first poem in Italian composed in 1226, can only be blue.
Blue is an evocative colour, just like painting and music. It bounces and resonates between eyes and heart as a colour and a feeling of depth. It is no coincidence that Kandinsky, who was a painter and also a cellist, wrote: “from a musical point of view, azure looks like a flute, blue resembles a cello, or the wonderful sound of the double bass when it becomes very dark; in its darker and more solemn dimension, it has the deep sound of an organ…”.
Blue becomes the colour of purification, with a biblical reference; an immersion in inner life to re-emerge enriched and aware. The chromatic line of the whole Canticle cannot but be blue, a supreme example of a praise to God, to life and nature perceived in its beauty and complexity. In it, Francis descends into himself and then pronounces, in a liberating scream, in a deep breath, towards the sky:
“Altissimu, onnipotente, bon Signore,
tue so’ le laude, la gloria e l’honore et onne benedictione.
Ad te solo, Altissimo, se konfano, et nullu homo ène dignu te mentovare…”
To express the immensity of Francis’ feelings, blue returns with Giotto, a master in the use of one of the most famous and precious colours in the history of art.
Obtained from the shredding of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone extracted in various places in the East, preserved the trace of its long travels to reach Europe in the well-fitting name “Ultramarine”. From the sea – from the water – to the sky, a short way, and the Tuscan artist dispenses lavishly his deep blue lapis lazuli skies in the monumental Basilica Superiore in Assisi and in the Chapel of the Scrovegni in Padua, although in some cases he used the cheap azurite, obtaining a very similar shade. Yet, Giotto’s blue is timeless, capable of reaching contemporary art with its load of suggestions. Yves Klein, creator of the famous International Klein Blue (IKB) in 1956 – “the most perfect expression of blue” to unify heaven and earth by dissolving the horizon with an Ultramarine free of alterations – sent a postcard depicting a scene of the Giottesque cycle in the Assisi Basilica, to his gallerist Iris Clert, delighted for having found a match to “his” blue in those frescoed skies.
It can only be the blue – matched with the Yellow of “… messor lo frate sole, lo qual è iorno, et allumini noi per lui…” on which one could find as many correspondences – the colour of the Franciscan Path. The path that connects the “places” of life and of the preaching of the Saint of perfect joy and allows reaching Assisi from Tuscany and Lazio, then continue to Rome through the Valle Santa Reatina. Over 570 km, including some variants and always between 400 and 600 meters in altitude, sometimes rising to 1,100 meters. The guide is the signposting, placed to make travelling easy in both directions. Easy to locate, interpret and follow, but not entirely homogeneous. If in Umbria and in the Lazio section it combines the blue-yellow colour – differing only for number of signs, more in Umbria – in the Tuscan section it uses the red-white of the CAI (the Italian Alpine Club). The only password, repeated on several sources: “always follow the same type of signage”. Via Lauretana intersects the Francis Route, that reaches Assisi from the Holy House of Loreto, and the Patron of Europe Route, St. Benedict, from Norcia to the Abbey of Montecassino passing through Cascia, and the Franciscan Protomartyr Route, marked by Benedictine abbeys and Franciscan places in the province of Terni.
A ROUTE OF THE SOUL
However, the Franciscan Way is much more than a journey. It’s a Pilgrimage.
“We choose a Pilgrimage Route because we want to change, everyone looks for something different, for themselves, a different relationship with others, faith …” said the Auxiliary Bishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Monsignor Paolo Giulietti (President of the Consortium “Umbria & Francescos’ Ways”, dedicated to the spiritual routes – editor’s note) recently, motivating the sense of an experience of this kind.
Yes, because the Franciscan Way can allow to descend into the immense Blue of one’s soul, to drown in personal depths and find the right thrust to re-emerge. It can allow finding a sense of a daily life in harmony with the world, with man and with God, without the steps of the Saint, Patron of Italy and of ecology, overlapping ours, crushing them, but, instead, coming besides them.
The same landscapes that filled the heart of Francis can embody the Pilgrim’s eye, investing it with its words and actions to use like a balm for the heart and mind. A viatic, taken along all routes that will come. Spirituality, welcoming, humility, the bitterness mixed with an unfiltered sensing of Umbria, in accordance with the flow of seasons, can only gratify those who decide to come with a pure and clear mind to Assisi, a city, a crossroads of the world, capable of transcending any distinction of Culture and Credence.
Let’s imagine then to leave without hesitation, armed only with a careful eye and the ability to understand, taking the Route of the peace of the woods of the Verna monastery on the Apennine ridge. It is the place where Francis, after following the Gospel to the letter, wanted to share his pain with Christ and wanted it so much that he was rewarded… with the stigmata. He drew the awareness from them, an awareness that he would no longer return, he uttered a commotified “Goodbye God’s mountain, Goodbye Mount Avernia”. From a breath-taking view, from which the threads of love often torn by the egoism of modern life can return to be woven, the route unfolds along gentle paths, perhaps less impacting from the natural point of view but full of history and culture. Here is Città di Castello and the descent towards south to reach high Pietralunga and Gubbio. One of the first, authentic trips of the Saint, after crossing the Medieval Gate, the Church of St. Francis appears evoking, among other things, the miracle of the wolf calmed down with the famous promise “Brother Wolf, promise to observe the peace treaty, that you do not offend either men, animals, or creatures?” The Path then touches Valfabbrica and after one of the most beautiful sections, amazing because it approaches the imposing massif of the Sacred Convent and of the Basilica of Saint Francis, the joy of entering Assisi is tangible. With the Franciscan Basilica behind, the Path’s blue thread leads to the Eremo delle Carceri, clinging to the sides of mount Subasio to reach Spello and Foligno. Without leaving the ridge of the valley, here comes Spoleto and then, after going through the pass, it arrives at Valnerina, summed up between Ceselli and Arrone, to touch the water of the Marmore cascade. The borders of Lazio are near and from the Piediluco expanse of water, the blue dives into that liquid depth, re-emerging in the Santa Reatina Valley, at the foot of the Terminillo, and then engages the immensity of the eternal city.
And in the peaceful Blue that was the companion on the way, the pilgrimage become aware that being on the route is already the goal, because the Way of Saint Francis embraces others. The Way of Santiago, for example, under the aegis of St. Anthony of Lisbon, a Franciscan brother who appeals to he who would become Patron of Italy “My Bishop”. In July 2008, the Assisi and Santiago administrations twinned the two cities, underlining the cultural and spiritual closeness that are the foundations of the pilgrimage.
A way to keep alive “The love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Heaven XXXIII, 145) preserved, unconsciously, globally, humanly… in the intimacy of every traveller of life.