Verdiana – Forgotten Saint of Castelfiorentino


Verdiana - Forgotten Saint of CastelfiorentinoIn a sanctuary in Castelfiorentino which resembles an elegant jewelbox, rest the mortal remains of Verdiana, the humble daughter of this marvellous land (even if her hagiography sites noble origins). The building is very old though today, appears to be the result of some successful restoration from the 700′s, with a beautiful porticoed entrance and a terracotta statue. The inside of the building is decorated with remarkable frescos. Semi-hidden steps descend to a tiny cell where the saint lived shut inside off nearly 34 years with the company of two snakes, engaged in an austere life of pious prayer and performing miracles.

Upon her return from a pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela via Rome, in a sort of religious fervour Verdiana had herself walled into the cell until her death 34 years later. She was just 20 years old. When she died and the walls were knocked in she was found kneeling with her eyes turned towards heaven. She was a contemporary of the much more famous Saint Francis, though almost unknown, having not ever taken part in historically notable events. But she did become the object of devotion by the locals. In fact Boccaccio himself cited her in Decameron (remember that Certaldo where he wrote the masterpiece, is just a stone’s throw from Castelfiorentino), but even so her image was exploited by the Comune of Castelfiorentino for political motives.

Oblivious to this the remains of Verdiana now rest peacefully in the chapel inside the sanctuary. Next to her are both precious and simple artefacts of her life on earth : a cross, a statue of San Jacopo that she brought back from her pilgrimage to Compostela, a clove of garlic from her last supper and a wicker basket with the wool that she used for her daily work. Lastly there is a the skull of one the snakes that shared the cell with Verdiana (the other one having escaped at the moment of her death). The snake is the symbol of the saint and a recurrent theme in her iconography. The two snakes frame the most famous of the antique images of Verdiana, a painting on wood done at the beginning of the 15th Century and kept in the annex of the wonderful musuem. There is another painting underneath the visible image, and perhaps even a third – even here the mystery continues.

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