This route is linked both to the veneration of the image of the Virgin in the Basilica of Santa Maria all’Impruneta and to the route of the processions which accompany this image to Florence.
Ever since the Etruscan period, Impruneta had played an important role in the relationship between the city and the countryside, both for its environmental resources and for the sanctuary, which is the destination of many pilgrimages.
The archaeological findings, discovered in the urban centre, witness the edification of a place of worship since the 6th century AD. The church, consecrated in 1060, acquired an important role for Florence in the 14th century, when the Black Death broke out: this was due to the cult of the Virgin of Impruneta, who was considered to be the protectress from the plague.
In 1353, for the first time, the image was moved to Florence in order to benefit from its miraculous powers. In the following centuries, many processions took place in Florence to praise the role of the Virgin as a saviour from any kind of danger, such as floods, droughts and war. The procession performed in 1529 against the siege of the Emperor Charles the 5th is one of the most famous. The image of the Virgin was hastily taken to Florence and placed in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore for fear of the Imperial army, who were marching towards Impruneta and there it remained throughout the siege.
The Bishop Giovan Battista Casotti left a detailed description -“Memorie istoriche della miracolosa immagine di Maria Vergine di Impruneta” of two processions, which were both famous for different reasons:
- The procession performed in 1633, was against the plague, which had caused the deaths of 9,000 people in the city of Florence alone. It is the same plague that is referred to by Manzoni in his Promessi Sposi “the Plague that the health Court feared could enter with the Germans in the area of Milan, as we all know, it came to Milan. It is known as well that this plague did not stop in Milan but spread all over Italy”.
- The procession performed in 1711, was ordered by the Grand Duke Cosimo the 3rd, as stated in the proclamation, in order to “invoke the Divine Mercy for our present events, and in particular to pray for the recovery of the health of His Highness the Prince Ferdinando and the desired succession to this Illustrious House”.
The Memorie Istoriche, written by the Bishop Casotti, gives a vivid image of these two events: the characters and the cortege that followed the procession, the joy of the believers, the resting places along the journey, the progress of the procession towards the city and then into the town through the walls, all regulated by a precise protocol.
The sacred route, that is proposed today, follows the journey as described by the Bishop Casotti. On a map, it appears to have the form of two arms extending from Impruneta towards Florence: the first, passing along the Certosa of Galluzzo, down to Porta Romana where the procession entered the city; the other towards the Porta San Giorgio, where the procession started its return journey passing through the ancient Erta dè Catinai. In presenting the sacred journey, some images and some suggestions have been taken directly from the book. Visitors are invited to take a look at the old churches that lie along the route paying attention to the network of tabernacles, found both in the countryside and in the city. These tabernacles were formed over the centuries and, in particular, along the route of the procession during the plague period.
In the Memorie Istoriche, the author reported that “every evening, when the nightly hour was struck, young boys gathered around the tabernacles and lit wax and oil lamps, that they had bought with the money they had earned from their begging in the name of God. This initiative, which was very innocent but full of love for the Virgin, spread out to the point that many damaged tabernacles were restored and many new ones were built. People competed in decorating these tabernacles to make one more beautiful than the other”.