We had mentioned Barbiana natural spiritual destination in the post “Mugello cycling heaven”.
Barbiana is a small fraction of the municipality of Vicchio. It is now famous for the pastoral and human experience of Don Lorenzo Milani. Coming from San Piero, stay on the right side of the Sieve river. After Sagginale, continue towards Vicchio. After about 4 km, always on the right, you will find the indication for Barbiana.
Assuming you are cycling, the climb to Barbiana is pleasant and not too demanding. It is about another 4 km from the junction of the provincial road 41.
Why do we recommend you visiting Barbiana ? Precisely for the reasons set out in the title: Barbiana natural spiritual destination.
From a natural point of view, you can enjoy one of the morphologically most varied parts of Mugello.
From a spiritual point of view, it is necessary to take up the story of Don Lorenzo Milani a little.
He was born in Florence in 1923 into a wealthy upper middle-class family. His mother was of Jewish origin but both parents claimed to be agnostics and anticlericals. For fear of the anti-Jewish persecutions of Nazi-fascism, his parents married in church and baptized their children. In the 1930s, the Milani family moved to Milan. Here Lorenzo graduated without particular merit from the historic Berchet high school.
However, he did not enroll in university as his parents would have liked. Passionate about art and painting, he decided to attend the Brera Academy thinking of continuing on an artistic path. During the same period he had a romantic relationship with a classmate. In the summer of 1941 he attended the studio of the German painter Hans-Joachim Staude in Florence. Staude will prove to be fundamental both for Lorenzo’s artistic growth and for his path towards conversion. Staude often told him to “always look for the essential, always see the details as part of a whole“. This weltanschauung will be applied by Lorenzo to his life, as he himself will later tell his teacher.
1943 was the year of his conversion. In June of that year he received confirmation from Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa. The turning point came thanks to the conversation with Don Raffaele Bensi, who later became his spiritual father. He describes it as follows: «Because meeting Christ, getting hold of him, stealing from him, eating him, was all one. Up to the indigestion of Jesus Christ ”.
The circumstances of his conversion have always remained rather obscure. This is also due to the confidentiality of Milani himself on the subject. However, from various testimonies it seems evident that Lorenzo had been in a state of spiritual research for some time. The biographer Neera Fallaci reports a passage from Don Milani himself: “And in this religion there is among many things, very important, fundamental, the Sacrament of the confession of sins. For which, almost only for that, I am Catholic. To continually have the forgiveness of sins. Having it and giving it ».
In November 1943 he entered the seminary in Florence where he was ordained a priest in 1947. Shortly after he was sent as coadjutor to San Donato di Calenzano, between Prato and Florence. Here he worked for a workers’ school for 7 years. Over the years in Calenzano he wrote Pastoral Experiences. This booklet had a strong echo for its contents. It was an opening to the world of the so-called “far away from the church”. The Italian Catholic Church was not ready to deal with issues of inclusion too revolutionary for the time. Many right-thinking people persistently protested to Cardinal Dalla Costa for the pernicious and subversive ideas of Don Lorenzo. Thus it was that in 1954 Don Lorenzo was sent to Barbiana natural and spiritual destination.
Now, dear tourists, we need to reflect on the period we are talking about. A priest who opens a night school for the children of workers could be considered a heretic. But Don Lorenzo was never a heretic. While carrying out his ideas he will always be obedient to the Catholic Church. But he will not forget to take sides with the poor. Yes he sided with the most needy as Jesus himself would have done. In Barbiana natural and spiritual destination, it was immediately clear who he would care about. They were the children of peasants from the remote Tuscan countryside.
Today the Mugello, like a large part of Tuscany, is a place appreciated by tourists. Mugello has unspoiled nature and varied landscapes of rare beauty. All these things in the post-war period were not important at all. in fact tourism existed only in the great cities of art such as Florence, Venice and Rome. In the postwar period, however, the Mugello countryside hosted a poor and marginalized population. There were still high illiteracy rates. In the villages the situation was better but in the countryside it was culturally desperate.
Don Lorenzo’s intuition was to proclaim the Gospel indirectly starting from culture. Culture brings true human advancement that can create justice and peace. In those circumstances, the first attempt at full-time school began. This school was aimed at those who would have been destined to remain victims of social exclusion. Under those circumstances, he began to experiment with the collective writing method.
The ideals of the School of Barbiana were to constitute an inclusive and democratic institution. Don Lorenzo sensed that inclusion and not selection could guarantee equality. This process could only take place with the removal of those differences that derive from wealth and social condition.
His school was housed in a couple of rooms in the rectory attached to the small church of Barbiana. A hamlet with a nucleus of a few houses around the church. Many farmhouses scattered on the slopes of Mount Giovi. In good weather, school was held outdoors under the pergola. The Barbiana school was a real collective where everybody worked together. The main rule was that those who knew more helped and supported those who knew less, 365 days a year. Don Lorenzo also tried to favor physical exercise. Ahead of his time he built a small swimming pool to teach students to swim. In winter students were also taught to ski.
Also anticipating contemporary Erasmus times, he regularly sent his poor students around Europe during the Summer. He used all his influential contacts in many countries to make his students work periods abroad. Learning foreign languages was fundamental for Don Lorenzo. The school immediately aroused much criticism and attacks were directed at it, both from inside and outside the church. The answers to these disputes were given with the collective pamphlet “Letter to a teacher”. Here the kids of Barbiana denounced the school system and the recurrent teaching method. Both undoubtedly favored the education of the richest classes leading to the exclusion of the poorest.
The Letter to a teacher was written during Don Lorenzo’s period of illness. This booklet became one of the basic texts of the student movement of ’68. Other popular school experiences were born later based on the experience of the Barbiana school. Don Lorenzo died in June 1967 and wanted to be buried in the small cemetery of Barbiana.
Few people know that it was Don Milani who adopted the English motto “I Care”. This motto was in clear contrast to the typically fascist expression “me ne frego” (I don’t care) . This expression was written on a sign at the entrance to the Barbiana classroom.
But coming to us in view of the post coronavirus holidays what may interest us? Well let’s imagine that we want to go and see the places of the historical Barbiana experience. Maybe we want to experience the effectiveness of the Mugello bike heaven. Lots of people flock from every part of Italy and Europe to get inspired by Barbiana.
Well, by making a few phone calls, it may also be possible to meet some former students. I forgot to say that many of Don Milani’s pupils have often held prestigious roles in society. Industry managers, politicians and the trade union leaders. This was possible thanks to the Barbiana school although pupils came from poor families. The direct meeting with the alumni is the best part of the visit to Barbiana. They are still almost all alive although they are all between 70 and 80 years old. Many of them can also communicate in English and French. For further information on the school of Barbiana you may refer to this book. To visit Barbiana, a natural and spiritual destination with a former student, you can request information from Mugello&Tuscany.