Nov 18 2014
During the period 1830 through 1860 thousands of books and journals were published in the English language. Finding a specific reference to “Lavernia” seemed a daunting task. 
In 1995 the Mellon Foundation provided a grant to Cornell University and the University of Michigan for a project called “The Making of America”. The grant provided funding for these institutions to select works of literature that were instrumental in forming America and American thought. Cornell University and the University of Michigan digitized the contents of thousands of these books and journals, creating a database that could be searched using a powerful search engine. 
When "Lavernia" was entered into the search engine, several references were located. The first reference was to a Journal published in 1847 called Littell’s Living Age. An article by Emile Chavin De Malan, originally published in Paris in 1845, was translated from French. The article was titled The Life of St. Francis.
A paragraph was of special interest: “…Orlando for the good of his soul, bestowed on the founder (St. Francis), and the companions of the order of Minor brethren, a tract of land amidst the highest summits of the Tuscan Apennines. Monte del Alvernia, now Lavernia, was a wild and sequestered region, covered with heath and rocks, and the primeval forest….” 
Another reference located by the search was The Encyclopaedia of Geography: Comprising a Complete Description of the Earth by Hugh Murray and published in three volumes by Blanchard and Lea of Philadelphia in 1855. Here the reference was to three villages made famous by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. These villages later figured prominently in the literary works or lives of such important writers as John Milton (Paradise Lost) and Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy). 
The reference stated: “Vallombrosa, a grand and solemn scene, where ‘Etruscan shades high over-arch embower,’ and has been rendered classical by the immortal verse of Milton, who is suppose to have drawn from it his picture of Paradise when he described it… ‘shade above shade, a woody theatre of stateliest view.’ More remote, and approaching to the greatest heights of the Apennine, the sacred hermitage of Camaldoli stands in a valley; but on a hill above are twenty-seven little mansions, each the abode of one monk, who, detached from the abbey, spends two years in austere and lonely retirement. Fourteen miles higher up, amidst the most solitary and savage recesses of the Apennine, is the Franciscan convent of Lavernia, containing eighty friars. It is seated on a lofty rock, broken into numberless pinnacles, while thick groves, rising to the summit, and nodding over the steeps, casts a rich and mellow shade upon the whole scene.”
The Encyclopedia of Geography was an important reference book and was widely used by scholars of the time. The Life of St. Francis was widely read and often referred to by writers from the period. Lavernia was purportedly the place where St. Francis felt closest to God.
The literary connection of Lavernia in Tuscany to the Texas village of La Vernia seems irresistible. And like many stories passed down from memory the story told by the elders of a “green” place named Lavernia seems just about right.