Holm oaks lift a canopy of dappled green over the cave where Francis slept near Sant’Illuminata. The cave is narrow, a small opening in a limestone bluff weathered into patterns like melted wax. Birds call and sing and trill above us; wild cyclamen bloom on the forest floor. Other pilgrims have left small offerings here: flowers, notes, a ring.
The ancient hermitage of Sant’Illuminata is abandoned now. Its stone altar and cross stand crookedly in a meadow of grass so brilliantly green it appears translucent, dotted with deep purple orchids.
We are a mile or so outside Alviano, one of the many central Italian villages that remember visits from Saint Francis eight centuries ago. People here say that Francis once asked a noisy flock of swallows to be quiet while he spoke. The birds obeyed instantly, astonishing the local people so much that they opened their hearts to what Francis had to say.
After his sermons in the bustling piazza, Francis would walk through the forest to rest in this little cave. Places like this that are associated with him are revered to this day. Everything has been left much as he found it. Ancient trees still stand witness here, the flowers he spoke to are blooming.