Warm, familiar hospitality, simple yet precise rules, a slow pace that promotes reflection, moments of sharing and of learning, relaxing hours in an oasis of silence and peace. This is Franciscan hospitality, the “core” of an experience of physical and mental well-being and of cultural exchanges between travellers and those who host them; ideally, it brings together 14 Sardinian centres where followers of Saint Francis of Assisi have left traces that cannot be erased. In Gallura, since the early 13th century Franciscans have chosen the landscape of Luogosanto, where, perched among granitic rocks, is the Eremo di San Trano, today a popular pilgrimage site. In the town, the Franciscans built Nostra Signora di Luogosanto, a basilica with a Holy Door privilege, which is home to the queen of Gallura. Visit the sacristy to admire the diocesan museum, with holy items, statues and ex votos, including refined jewels. In their search for isolation, the friars climbed Mount Rasu: you can follow their steps and see the place where Giovanni Parenti, minister of the order after Francis, is likely buried. At Castelsardo, a hamlet perched over the sea, the friar minors of a convent have lived, over 500 years, in the church of Nostra Signora delle Grazie, home to lu Cristu Nieddu, a juniper crucifix that dates back to the 13th century and is blackened by time. At the Meilogu, in Mores, capuchin friars live in the convent of Sant’Antonio, the perfect place to try the Franciscan experience.
During your Franciscan stay, you will discover an architectural and artistic heritage, peculiarities of local territories and of those who live in them. In the medieval heart of Sassari, the friars rebuilt Santa Maria di Betlem and the Campulongu monastery. Today the church has the neoclassic aspect given to it by Antonio Cano, friar and architect, and is the home of huge votive candles brought here in procession during the Descent of Candlesticks. The convent is the home of the statue of blessed Francesco Zirano. You can visit the observing friars minor, who have been in charge of the sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie for more than 500 years. The restructuring works on the oratory of Madonna di Valverde, carried out by the capuchins, brought to life a sarcophagus from the late 3rd century on which a cross has been carved, a sign of the early diffusion of Christianity. In the Catalan part of Alghero, in the early 15th century the friars restructured the church and convent of Saint Francis, today one of the island’s most characteristic Catalan gothic monuments. A bit more to the south there is Bosa, a medieval hamlet overlooked by the castle of Serravalle, home of Nostra Signora de sos Regnos Altos. The small 14th-century church displays a cycle of frescos with themes (poverty and humbleness) dear to the order, as well as depictions of Franciscan saints: evidence of their presence here in the late giudicati age.
The Franciscan hospitality place par excellence in Barbagia is Fonni, the island’s “highest” town. Here the friars created a baroque and rococo masterpiece, the sanctuary of Vergine dei Martiri. The complex also includes a convent, the crypt of Sant’Efisio and San Gregorio, the oratory of San Michele, cumbessias and oasis of spirituality. In Oristano, the Franciscan convent was also the core of political life: here is where a peace treaty was signed between Giudicato d’Arborea and the Aragonese Crown, in 1388. In the church of Saint Francis, which was once gothic and is now neoclassic, you will find the Nicodemus crucifix, a wooden sculpture made in the “gotico doloroso” style, dear to the order, which represents an agonising Christ with extreme naturalism. Oristano is the home of the first Saint Claire monastery in Sardinia, chosen as place of retirement by aristocratic ladies, including Giudicessa Eleonora. Hospitality for pilgrims has always been a characteristic of the convent of capuchin friars in Oristano. There is another in Sanluri, for four centuries overlooking the medieval town and its castle from atop its hill. It is surrounded by fields of wheat, vines, kitchen gardens, and, in the background, Monte Arcuentu. The convent was once a place of training for novices; today it is open for meditative stays.
The Franciscan symbol of Cagliari and a place not to be missed is the capuchin garden. Their first settling in the city, in the early 13th century, was the area currently occupied by the Bonaria monumental cemetery. The friars minor later founded a second convent, of which arches and frescoes can be seen at Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The current headquarters of the capuchins is the convent of Sant’Ignazio, on the hills of Buoncammino, next to the Roman theatre that was rebuilt together with the church that is home to the sarcophagus of blessed Nicola, and with the sanctuary of Sant’Ignazio. Worthy of a visit is also the church of Santa Rosalia, at the Marina, the home of observing friars minor who hold the remains of San Salvatore da Horta, a famous miracle worker. In Laconi, the main town of the Sarcidano area, you will begin a spiritual itinerary in honour of Saint Ignatius, starting at the modest house where he was born and proceeding to a museum dedicated to him and then to a Franciscan oasis, a place of peace and restauration surrounded by a garden. Gesturi, at the foot of the Giara, is the birthplace of blessed Nicola, born in 1882. His home, still with its original furniture, has been turned into a museum in honour of “Friar Silence”, homage to his rare yet effective words.
The devotion of Pula is closely related to capuchin friar Nazareno, who, halfway through a life rich with experiences, adopted a rigorous and essential style, and joined the order. He received members of the church who were seeking council and comfort, in a pauper house a few kilometres from the town. The house has now been converted into a museum, to which a small convent, some vines and gardens have been added; as a visitor, you have access to these areas and can help the friars take care of them.
Upon request of the Aragonese family, Franciscans reached Iglesias in the 14th century, and left their traces in the church of Saint Francis, remade in Catalan gothic style in the 16th century. Another piece of evidence of their passage is the church of Nostra Signora di Valverde, outside the town walls, rebuilt in 1592 and entrusted to the capuchin friars. The tall, slender façade, in Pisan-Romanesque style, is part of the original church. Today the friars keep the sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie, where they receive pilgrims.
From north to south, each sanctuary, each bit of landscape of Sardinia is part of a splendid mosaic: the beauty of the places inspires contemplation, while the sense of community promotes inner peace.