Chapter #1

The mysterious friar who worshipped the Madonna

Along an old mule track that climbs the ridge of Montemignaio, crossed by shepherds and their herds for centuries, there was a small oratory dedicated to the Madonna. Even today, many tourists trek the beautiful paths of the Casentino. However, in the 18th century it was a place frequented by only a few pilgrims and one hermit in particular, Fra Michele Kalbermater.

A mysterious friar arrived tired and hungry at the hermitage in 1728 and asked to rest. It was a rest which lasted 42 years. All that remains of the Romitorio delle Calle today is a loggia, three arches and a tabernacle that houses a table of the Sienese school depicting the Madonna and Child. It is very different from the shelter which had housed the clergyman. He had lived a very frugal life and survived on what he was donated, a large amount of which he devoted to the maintenance of the hermitage. Fra Michele died in 1770 at the age of 80 and was buried in the hermitage. Only then did someone reveal his true identity: he was a nobleman of Piedmont, Count Cesare Solaro di Villanova. He had abandoned his life of ease and left for the Holy Land to which he never arrived given his stop at the hermitage. Today a plaque commemorates the story of Count Cesare, who wanted to call himself Kalbermater, which in old German means "total dedication to the Madonna".

Chapter #2

When the French silenced the bell

MontemignaioPhoto by: Vibar

In the past, bells had a dual function: religious and civil. In the first case, they sounded for celebrations or mourning, in the second, due to dangers such as fire or enemy invasion. The bell at the castle of Montemignaio, the historic Castel Leone, played a particularly important role during the French occupation of 1799. The bell rang incessantly to call the peasants to gather against the republican troops. The bell rang from its position overlooking the valley of the Fiana stream in the imposing tower to the right of the castle door. It obviously did not please the French, who then conspired to steal it as war booty. The bell had considerable value: it had been cast in 1332 by Count Simone di Battifolle. However, not having been able to dismantle it from the tower, the French instead decided to silence it by stealing its clapper. For years, nothing was known about its whereabouts until one day it was found in a blacksmith's shop in Rovezzano, Florence.

Chapter #3

In the town where Christmas trees originate

Montemignaio is the town of the Christmas tree. From here, thousands of Christmas trees leave every winter to light up Tuscan homes during the coldest holiday of the year. The cultivation of fir trees is one of the traditional activities of this town in Casentino. It overlooks Pratomagno, which involves several companies in the area on a daily basis. Tens of thousands of white, red and silver fir trees are grown. Particular attention is paid to the environment; after the holidays it is possible to bring back the trees back so they can be re-planted.

Photo by: Vibar