Returning to the Source:

Pilgrimage to Majella

Italy’s Mother Mountain

Into the Wild Green Heart of Italy

September 16-27, 2020

"Well, as I was saying, ninety or ninety-five percent of tourists want an Experience, something they can undergo and report on without being changed. The other five per cent, let’s say, are hoping to come in contact with something real, that has the chance of actually changing them. However, fifty percent of that five percent have a firm idea of the specific way in which they intend to be changed. To my mind that makes them tourists again, because they’ve picked a destination out of a guidebook. The last few people are, you know, the cliff-jumpers, the ones who are determined to encounter The Real at whatever cost. Those people are the reason you have insurance policies. But all of them, all of them want a sense of something outside themselves. That was what we gave them.

- from In Siena, unpublished novel by Steve Lane 

From slow food to fast cars, Italy is a land of delicious paradoxes, and its spiritual life is no exception: despite the Catholic patriarchy, the greatest devotion is reserved for the Divine Feminine as Madonna in her various forms; here, where every town is intensely proud of its local specialties, earthly pleasures are revered to the point of sanctification. 

 

On our honeymoon in 2018, we (Julia and Jonathan) followed a call to Abruzzo, a less-traveled part of the Italian Appennines. The stunning beauty we found there left us dreaming not only of returning ourselves, but of sharing the incredible richness of the region with like-minded souls. Who else feels the  who likewise feel the inexplicable draw to these mountains with their wild forests, ancient olive groves and cliff-face hermitages, to this land where age-old traditions coexist with some of the most pristine nature in Western Europe? 

 

Over the course of eleven days, our small group (maximum 6 participants plus hosts and guide) will embark on a journey into Italy's green heart. Steering clear of the beaten tourist track, we’ll settle into a walking pace and rhythm, praising the earth with our feet as we trek through a landscape of natural, cultural and spiritual marvels: a beech tree said to have sheltered St Francis during a thunderstorm, a hidden 13th Century hermitage cut into the living rock that housed hermit Pietro da Morrone until he was made Pope at the age of 80. Everywhere mingling with and underlying the Christian stratum lie the culture and traditions of Roman and pre-Roman peoples who venerated the spirits of the land and whose presence can still be felt. 

 

Our journey will move symbolically from birth (Rieti’s Holy Valley, traditionally considered Italy’s umbilicus) through initiation (amid the mysteries of the Majella) to death (land’s end at the Adriatic coast and a visit to the Sangro River War Cemetery, where we will honor the sacrifice of Allied veterans). As more than just tourists, we will engage with these places in depth through group ritual at key points of the trip. Throughout our time together, Jonathan and Julia will share their knowledge of ancestral reverence, herb lore, and ritual techniques, while local guides give us an inside perspective on history, culture and art--including the arts of food and wine: this is Italia, after all! Expect to be nourished deeply by Abruzzo’s hearty take on la dolce vita. Local specialties include arrosticini lamb skewers, the famous saffron from outside of Aquila, cherry-infused rataffià liqueur, spaghetti cut on the “guitar”, sheep's milk cheese, wild mushrooms, salumi, and of course wines: Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Trebbiano D'Abruzzo and the recently revived, sublime white varietal Pecorino. 

We invite you to join us for this deep dive into the sacred landscape of one of Europe's wildest and most pristine regions. 

Group size is limited to six, plus hosts and local guides.    

 

Itinerary (subject to modification)

 

Day 1- Rieti’s Holy Valley

-Arrival at Fiumicino airport, rendezvous

-Make a brief visit to the beautiful Abbey of Farfa, a vibrant Benedictine center since the 6th century AD

-Check in to hotel near Rivodutri. Refreshments and rest time. 

-Aperitivi followed by special welcome dinner at Enoteca Boccondivino 

 

Day 2- Rieti's Holy Valley

-Breakfast at hotel

-Passage through the Porta Alchemica marks the ritual beginning of our journey. 

-Opening Circle. Stating intentions, honoring spirits of the land.  

-Walk along portion of the Way of St Francis trail to an age-old beech tree said to have sheltered the saint during a storm.

-Picnic lunch on the trail.

-Continue to Franciscan site of Poggio Bustone

-Optional evening trip to Rieti for the passeggiata (evening stroll).

-Independent dinner. 

 

Day 3- to Sulmona via Anversa degli Abruzzi 

-Check-out after breakfast

-Drive (1.5 hours) to Anversa degli Abruzzi, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy

-Explore town and walk up Sagittario gorge to village of Castrovalva.

-Lunch at the excellent Ristorance La Fiaccola in Anversa. 

-Arrive to Sulmona by late afternoon (30 min drive)

-Check into into B&B Sei Stelle.

-Free evening to explore the town or rest. Independent dinner.

 

Day 4- Sulmona area

-Breakfast at B&B Sei Stelle

-Drive (75 min) to Campo Imperatore, Italy’s “Little Tibet”

-Walk in high alpine meadowlands in the heart of Gran Sasso national park. In legend, Gran Sasso is Majella's son who died despite her best efforts to save him. Here we will be immersed in rugged, archetypally masculine beauty before the Majella's greener embrace. 

-Visit iconic Rocca Calascio castle, the highest such fortress in Europe. Picnic lunch. 

-Afternoon to Il Torchio just outside Sulmona for a cooking class followed by dinner

-Return to Sulmona

Day 5- Sulmona area

-Breakfast at B&B Sei Stelle

-Visit spectacular frescoed churches of Bominaco, a chance to explore the connections between Catholicism and older forms of religious observance  

-Picnic lunch 

-Tirino River canoeing--to the headwaters of one of the most pristine rivers in Europe. Return paddle is in silence.

-Tour and Tasting at Valle Reale winery within the borders of the Majella National Park

-Independent dinner in Sulmona

 

Day 6- Majella National Park

-Breakfast at B&B Sei Stelle.

-Depart for Majella National Park.

-En route, hike in Lama Bianca forest en route to Decontra, arrosticini lunch in woods

-Possible visit to Hermitage of San Bartolomeo

-Arrive at lodgings in beautifully-restored stone houses in the village.

-Dinner at Agriturismo Pietrantica

 

Day 7- Majella - Pony Trek 

-The heart of the trip! We begin by driving to the starting point at the beautiful Hermitage of Santo Spirito

-Rendezvous with our guides and embark with Hafflinger pack ponies.

-Afternoon on the trail amidst the splendor of the Majella. Trailside lunch. 

-Camp under stars, with home-cooked food and home-made wine by our guides 

 

Day 8- Majella - Pony Trek

-Camp Breakfast

-Continue to the spectacular Hermitage of San Giovanni. Here we'll each have a chance to visit sanctum in ones and twos, in silence. 

-Ritual honoring of the local pre-Roman tribes amid the beech groves. Deepening into the rich mythology of the Majella and its resonance with the Madonna. 

-Lunch on Trail

-Return to Decontra by late afternoon

-Dinner at Agriturismo Pietrantica 

 

Day 9- Majella - Rest Day

-Breakfast at Pietrantica

-At leisure in nearby hot springs town of Caramanico Terme

-Opportunities for soaking in thermal springs & shopping for local crafts

-Option to walk in the beautiful Orfento gorge from Caramanico

-Dinner prepared by the group back in Decontra--our chance to create a meal together from the fabulous local ingredients!

 

Day 10-  Adriatic Coast 

-Breakfast at Pietrantica

-Depart Majella for the coast (1-1.5 hours drive)

-To Sangro River War Cemetery, where we'll have a chance to honor Allied veterans in a shared group ritual

-Visit the famous Abbazia di San Giovanni in Venere, built on site of a Venus temple overlooking the sea

-Check-in to final lodging on coast (hotel TBD). 

 

Day 11- Adriatic Coast

-Breakfast at hotel

-Morning at leisure, beach time at a Blue Flag beach near Punta Aderci nature reserve

-Closing circle in late afternoon

-Special farewell dinner at a Trabocco fishing platform converted into a seafood restaurant

 

Day 12- Return to Rome/airport

-Depart for Rome after breakfast

-Those continuing their travels may also arrange transport to nearby Pescara airport

At intervals throughout the trip, we'll have chances to drop into ritual space as a group and engage in shared practice. The above itinerary suggests some likely times for such group rituals, but we will be following the flow of our time together. 

 

To support each participant in their own deepening-in and trip preparation, Jonathan & Julia will be offering an individual phone or in-person session of ancestral/spirit work in advance of the journey. 

 

 

Trip Requisites:

 

*Reasonable physical fitness. The itinerary will include several half-day and day-long walks of up to 6-8 miles over hilly terrain.  

 

*Willingness to show up with openness and to be kind and patient with fellow pilgrims; Interest in ritual work. 

 

*Due to the nature of the local cuisine, this trip is not recommended for those with serious gluten intolerance. Vegetarians can be accommodated but should expect to eat a fair amount of bread, pasta and cheese. 

 

Cost:

 

   Double Room: $4,675 with deposit before February 1st, $5,075 after February 1st

   Single Room: $5,275 with deposit before February 1st, $5,675 after February 1st

    For more details payment, cancellation policy etc, see the pilgrimage Application Form

Included in cost:

 

Ground transport

Lodging (11 nights)

Entrance fees to natural/cultural sites

Local guides 

Canoe Trip

Pony Trek with local guides

Ritual Activities and Supplies

All Breakfasts

7-8 Lunches/Dinners at restaurants or picnic style, including special Welcome and Farewell Dinners

Travel Insurance

Group Call Prior to Departure

Individual Ancestral Session Prior to Departure

 

Not Included:

 

International Airfare

Wine/Drinks 

Lunches/Dinners not specified in the itinerary 

Confirmation is via $500 non-refundable deposit, with the balance payable in two installments. 

For more info, contact heartwardsanctuary@gmail.com

To register, send completed Application Form with $500 deposit

Wild Mountain Gentian

(Gentiana lutea)

Beech Grove on a Slope of the Majella

Heartward Sanctuary

 508(c)(1)(a) non-profit

religious organization

Founded in North Carolina in 2019

All rights reserved

Photography:

Kathleen Hunter

Anna Maynard

Julia Hartsell

Jonathan Edwards

CONTACT:
HeartwardSanctuary(at)gmail(dot)com
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