Garden of Eden

Creation began with a garden, the Garden of Eden, filled as the Bible tells us, with flowers and trees beautiful to look at and good for eating. Beauty and functionality! My trip through Italy to monastic houses in the spacious and luxurious Tuscan countryside notorious for its beauty and undulating hillsides covered with family vineyards and olive groves lulled me into thinking I had in fact arrived at either the Garden of Eden or Paradise. Pinch me, is this real?? High in the Apennine hills is somewhat breathtaking literally, climbing the cobblestone streets with old Italian women who have done it since childhood (the young ride up on motor scooters!) and figuratively with the beautiful panoramas. The clouds and mist delicately wrap themselves around the mountain tops in the early morning as I sip cappuccino on the terrace, and then they slowly disappear revealing the splendid, green mountain peaks as sunlight separates the mists and bursts through. The mountains undulate across a horizon dotted with luxurious villas built by prosperous Italian immigrants returning home from places like my home USA or Scotland or even as far away as Buenos Aires as one Villa decidedly proclaimed with Villa Buenos Aires in tiles above the door as it clings to the hillside. My old town was quiet, circled round by a medieval wall. The streets were all small and narrow, as they were not built for cars and definitely not tour buses which have to back up and down as do cars so each other can pass.

Amongst the Tuscan villas and tiled roofs, we visited San Gimignano monastery arriving at the base of a hillock. The monastery itself was only arrived at by a long, arduous hike for this oldish nun but the garden of God awaited both in the panorama and in gardens atop the hillock.

Theologically, some say transfiguration is reparation or exchange of the old earth for the new heaven/Jerusalem. Resurrection is new life, new birth from the old. However you choose to think of your theology, the obvious monastic fact is that this 1000 year old church and property on top of  San Gimignano hill has been resurrected. The flower and vegetable gardens are beautifully tended and lovingly cared for; they speak of resurrection beauty and are fecund with new life. The church too is resurrected. After a toothbrush type cleaning of the somewhat ruinous state of the church, (it was being used as a warehouse when turned over to this new monastic house) it is now lovely, re-birthed if you will, and welcomes guests and visitors for prayer and short stays for those hearty enough to journey into the countryside and then up the hill. There are two to four brothers there at any one time from a nearby monastic house; the community is part of a new monasticism/revival.

The arduous trek up the hill and the leisurely pace down  gave this nun and perhaps other visitors the chance to reflect on the metaphorical suffering journey of the cross to the promise and joy of resurrection and new birth.

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