Terre dei Santi: Land of the Saints

November 8, 2012 / Local Interest
Most people know of Umbria as the “Green Heart of Italy”, but it is also called the “Terre dei Santi”, Land of the Saints, with the highest number of saints in all of Italy.

Something about the verdant hills and the soft light that emanates throughout this region inspired these holy folk to follow a path of mysticism and service.

The earliest, San Benedetto was born in Norcia in 480. He founded western monasticism with the Benedictine Order, after living for years in solitude in a cave. He is the patron saint of Europe; his twin sister, Santa Scolastica dedicated her life to God as a child and is the patron saint of nuns.

We find another pair in Assisi, the most venerated religious figure in history, the patron saint of Italy, San Francesco, who with his beloved friend, Santa Chiara, founded the Orders of Franciscans and Poor Clares in 1210. Santa Chiara lived a cloistered life with forty sisters in the Convent of San Damiano for 35 years below the city of Assisi. A visitor marvels at the perfectly preserved quarters of the sisters who slept on meager straw pallets together in one room.

Also spiritually evocative is the little known, but powerful holy place, the Celle di Cortona where San Francesco lived for months in solitude sleeping on a wooden bench listening to the cascading waterfall below his small window.

San Damiano in Assisi and Celle di Cortona just outside Cortona are two of many uniquely preserved and richly satisfying places for visitors following the trail of the Saints of Umbria.

Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at www.anticavetreria.net.

8 Responses to “Terre dei Santi: Land of the Saints”

  1. Colleen,
    Thank you for contributing this article. Your words and descriptions left me wanting more and so I write. You’ve hit upon a rich subject which could extend into even more delicious meals if you would just create them. Please share more.

  2. Michael Murphy

    Although I enjoyed your post on the saints, I believe that Cortona, while near the border, is really in Tuscany.
    Michael Murphy

  3. Some of the most interesting photos I took in Umbria were of saints. My favorite is from the cathedral in Narni. If you stand in just the right spot, a painting of Santa Lucia is positioned such that she looks like she is peering over the shoulder of the statue of San Giovenale. Her expression is perhaps not quite saintly, and his could be interpreted as discomfort and a supplication for protection. In addition, the reflective sheen on the statue made it look as if he had broken out into a nervous sweat.

  4. Anne Robichaud

    yes, as Colleen has written, we are “la terra dei santi”..over 150 in Umbria, it’s said..but after all, if you count each patron saint of each town and village, the numbers add up…! The patron saint is inevitably 1st bishop and (and often, a martyr), eg San Rufino of Assisi, San Feliciano of Foligno, Sant’Emiliano di Trevi, San Costanzo di Perugia…etc..and on we go….
    But as I once said to any Umbrian friend, “si, si, molti santi…ma tanti peccatori anche!”
    (and no one has counted up the sinners! :) )

    Grazie, Colleen!

  5. Colleen Simmpson

    Grazie for all the nice comments. Yes, I strayed into Toscana, but I could not resist Celle di Cortona, because Francesco walked everywhere and did not recognize boundaries. Scusi…should have made it clearer. But I feel such holiness there in his humble celle I did not wish to leave it out. Francis was of Umbria and that is what matters to me. If my note stimulates visitors to Umbria and branching out into Toscana to visit the places that saints of Umbria called holy I will have succeeded. Grazie per tanti!

  6. I love all of this…visiting Assisi and “walking in” the footsteps of the beloved San Francesco was so profound for me. Because so much art reflects the lives of the saints, knowing more about them (and their travails) brings a greater meaning and appreciation to the experience.

  7. Thank you for this. Both my parents were born in Gubbio, provincia di Umbria. Quindi, I’m obliged to mention Sant’ Ubaldo.

  8. CeciliaBelenardo

    I love this Article, I hope to go back to Assisi again this year.All these Saint are a big part of my childhood education.


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