The Church and the Convent of San Francesco of the Encounter were built by request of San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, a Franciscan preacher.
San Leonardo dedicated his whole life to the cult of the Virgin Mary and preaching. The fame of being a great preacher took him to Florence in 1709. During his stay, he used to celebrate the Stations of the Cross during Lent and was followed by an immense crowd of followers among whom was the Grand Duke. “Eager for solitude to renew his purpose and increase the grace and love of God”, San Leonardo built the Convent of the Encounter as a retreat and dedicated the Church to the Virgin Mary.
The Convent of the Encounter, also called the Solitudine dell’Incontro (Solitude of the Encounter) was finished in 1717 and immediately became a point of reference for the rural community and nearby Florence especially due to the fame of its founder.
The term Incontro (Encounter) has a strong etymological meaning: against, that is in front of Florence, the term refers to the geographic location of the convent with regard to the city. The building is, in fact, situated on a high hill 557 meters above sea level where you can enjoy the view over the whole plain of Florence. But the word Incontro also refers to the myth that it was on this hill that San Francesco and San Dominico met each other, however there are no documents that confirm this hypothesis, but nonetheless the strong appeal of the area’s particular encounter with the divine remains.
The structure was heavily damaged during the World War II bombing (English and German unloaded over 13,000 shots on the Dell’Incontro hill. For this reason, the building visible today is the result of a complex work of restructuring and rebuilding.
There are many works of art preserved inside, such as seven paintings, placed above the upper section, depicting some of the miracles performed by San Leonardo in life or after death. The sacristy leads to the picturesque stone chapel dedicated to San Leonardo. The chapel was built during the Middle Ages alongside the ancient Lombard fort, which originally dominated the Dell’Incontro hill.
The Church and the Convent are, since October 2000, managed by the Associazione Missionaria Onlus “Obiettivo Francesco” (“Francesco Objective” Onlus Missionary Association) which made this charming place available again both for welcoming and religious activities and for socio-cultural events and ceremonies, in keeping with the original spirit of simplicity and spirituality.
Information on the Convent of San Francesco of the Encounter was taken from: Maria Elisa Natali, San Leonardo e l’Incontro – “Una missione per il Paradiso”, Obiettivo Francesco Onlus (Maria Elisa Natali, San Leonardo and the Encounter – “A Mission to Heaven”, Francesco Objective Onlus).