Tucked into a narrow gorge just north of the Etruscan walls of Cortona, Tuscany, is one of my favorite spiritual destinations, Celle di Cortona. San Francesco himself founded this hermitage beside a cascading waterfall in 1211.
Carefully preserved, the small chapel where his fellow Friars Minor slept on the floor evokes the Franciscan spiritual tradition of simplicity and poverty.
Peek around the small altar into the Cella di S. Francesco, a tiny chamber, and try to imagine resting for months on a narrow wooden bench built into the wall, about 5 feet long and a foot wide with a block of wood for a pillow. Francis would take hermitage here for days of ecstatic meditation with only a loaf of bread, listening to his beloved waterfall beneath a small window.
Francis returned for three months on his way from Siena where his friars had sought medical help for him when he was mortally ill. It was here that he wrote his last testament exhorting his fellow Friars Minor to obey God and to live a life of poverty and manual labor.
Restored extensively in 1969, this convent of cells and chapels spills on both sides of the gorge with walking paths and gardens tended by the monks who live and work here.
Wandering the paths beside the cascading water, one can understand why Francis needed to return to this spiritual oasis before he made his last journey home to Assisi. Today, it is a modern day oasis for visitors and sometimes the sounds of music echo within the gorge when concerts or weddings are booked.