The crypt of the cathedral in Siena with the fragmented frescoes appealed to me on another level. There was an Italian professor/ high school teacher there with his class. Obviously, one young girl had been chosen to give a report as all her classmates clustered around her with the backdrop of the frescoes. She expounded to the class on something I could of course not understand but a school class is a school class in any language to this long-time teacher.
As I left and trekked the easily 20 minute walk back through town to the church where I was sure there was a mass at 6 pm, I saw a lady duck into a church that I had passed but entered. So again, I followed the crowd again and success! There was an hour of adoration beginning. It was beautiful as it was at the Beguinnage with our last priest. This priest loved the beauty of the altar and the monstrance in silver and gold and silk and velvet embossed robes robes accompanying the adoration. He donned the robes and led the monthly adoration with pomp, circumstance and elegant dignity albeit for only us 7 sisters and perhaps one or two other worshippers. So it was with this adoration here in Italy, beautiful dignified majestic and worshipful; I stayed until I knew if I did not go I would miss the Mass. God again had ordered my steps and blessed my Road to Calvary. Have no fear the my assigned task was intertwined with my walk of faith allowing me to again marvel at the will of God and how it encompasses and infuses encompasses both the daily mundane tasks and spiritual. He speaks through and infuses both with His presence if we are only watching and waiting.
The beginning of this experience was recounted in the previous blogpost, Road to Calvary — Siena, Part I
From the train station on the valley floor in Siena, Italy, it is a long and tortuous hike straight uphill to the center of town perched on the protected mountain top. According to Internet posts, within the last two years, eleven escalators have been installed to mount both residents and tourists alike to and from the station. So…. I followed the crowd and after 5 minutes, I had lost count of the number of escalators I had risen but sure enough I did arrive at the top of the hill on which Siena is located. However, it was another 1/2 hour walk to the Centro and the Duomo and another 1/2 hour to my hotel! I would have planned better had I know the size of the town. God had plans though. I wandered in and out of small churches on the way — their doors invitingly open and I could sit down and rest and pray. It did feel a bit like the Road to Calvary although not nearly what our Savior endured. I stumbled on a church with a daily mass at 6 pm to which I returned and worshipped with the faithful in yet another Italian church with two small chapels with scads of warm and flickering candles, obvious places of prayer. Later in the afternoon with a few spare minutes, I visited the Duomo, it having been 50 years since I was there. Nothing doing said the security guard! A 13 euro ticket was required and had to be obtained from another office across the. Piazza. My veil or my plea to pray carried no weight with this security guard. I had to go to the ticket office! So off I went and this time my veil was literally my ticket. The very kind smiling and very pleased ticket lady gave me a full three day pass to the Crypt Baptistry and Duomo. On my return, the security man was happy to let me in ( Security is a sign of the times and one has to do his job but he was obviously pleased a nun was getting in free. ) I loved the cathedral, snapping pictures and praying in all sorts of little alcoves and Mary chapels. The library displayed wonderful huge Gregorian chant books with the small ancient neumes and fabulous illuminations. The best part of this visit was perhaps that it was March 1 and there were next to no tourists.
The crypt was open to me as well and after succeeding with Italian directions, I descended the many stone steps to a slightly obscure entrance. You would have to want to visit this crypt to find it. This was truly a walk to Calvary with old fragmented frescoes now wonderfully illuminated and protected so both the faithful and the art lover can be blessed by this walk, from the washing of the feet to the descent from the cross and the laying of Our Lord in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and culminating in the last and prominent panel of the resurrection. I am always pleased to see Mary Magdalene, being named Sr Madeleine which goes as Magdalena here in Italy. This walk was definitely a Lenten treat for me designed especially by my God. I myself might never have found the place.
Read my next blogpost, Road to Calvary — Siena, Part II for the conclusion of this story.
Paris My Love……my heart sings when I step off the train or the bus to a Paris street. I am home…I am always at home in Paris! How is that? Perhaps Ernest Hemingway’s so eloquent words on life in Paris are the answer “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you for Paris is a moveable feast.” I lived in Paris as a young woman! Gender equality was not even a whisper of a thought in the 1920’s of Ernest Hemingway. I love Paris! Recently, I was again in Paris for a few days, with time to visit my favorite patisserie shop which I am convinced has the best patisserie in all of Europe and if the lines are an indication I am not the only one of that opinion. Being a nun, the churches are for me the best thing about Paris….. Notre Dame, Madeleine, my namesake, St Germain des Pres, Saint Chapelle or Saint Sulpice. As a young girl they touched me, warmed me, welcomed me even when I was not so sure I knew much of anything about God. The American Cathedral, the American church they sustained my infant faith. All these churches have had their era and they still speak to all who enter, the casual and the faithful, the believer and the unbeliever. The spirit is in the walls, in the paintings, in the statues, in the altars. The churches draw trillions of visitors who enter within their walls and are touched. Hopefully this year, my home community’s choir will be singing in one or more of these Paris churches, whether the warm and homey St Germain des Pres or the majestically impressive St Sulpice or the stained glass wonder of St Chapelle. Each church has its individual ministering and spirit of worship for God’s creation….. mankind.
Having had art inculcated and cultivated into my growing up years, I am a bit of an art aficionado; my year in France built on this foundation. I visited every important art museum in Europe. At some point, I was only interested in the views from the windows or the museum cafeteria as opposed to the Michelangelo or Rembrandt beside me. At 19, youth does not really comprehend the legacy being offered or the immense privilege being given.
One Sunday afternoon, as I wandered the cobblestone walkways in old Barga, I found an open door to a grand palazzo beckoning in English to an art display within and for free (very important for a nun! ), of the paintings of a local artist. If for no other reason than I wanted to see the architecture, I went in. The palazzo was huge and the rooms immense, ceilings 20 feet high, a long ladder was needed to reach the top shelves of an enormous bookshelf crammed with ancient classics. This ancient stone palazzo was once the home of a local painter of whom no one but locals would have heard and the palazzo remains in the Cordati family. But….the exhibition that covered all the walls of a once immense salon/ballroom and the once fireplaced bedrooms was both prolific and impressive. Each room held different eras of this man’s oeuvres. I was rather enthralled by both the architecture and the paintings, the production of a lifetime. His journey could be read through his paintings. Having seen enough Michelangelo and Rembrandt in my time, this Cordati was rather fascinating. Cordati had fought in WWI and lived through the bombings and battles of WWII that surrounded this small mountain town …..and then endured and survived the postwar years of wretched poverty. His paintings were predominantly people, young and old, lads and lassies, women and men at their daily tasks and poses. Unsurprisingly, a certain melancholy enveloped the subjects. His paintings were lovely, realistic and arresting but somehow sad and sorrowful. Perhaps there was for him, catharsis in his paintings.
As I walk the way of the cross, this Lent I am reminded that the path to Calvary had also a melancholic, painful sadness. Thank God the resurrection is yet to come!
The cathedral in Pisa, the nearby town of Leaning Tower fame, is celebrating its 900th anniversary. One of my sisters here could not even conceive of a 900 year old church. The USA is young, 400 years; 1620 the year of the Mayflower landing in Plymouth Mass. 1776 is the beginning of the USA as an independent country not even 250 years old. At any rate, the icon of the Madonna of Pisa from the cathedral is making a tour, visiting the nearby towns and villages in the diocese to honor and celebrate these 900 years. Barga, my hillside town will host the lovely Madonna for 2 weeks. A planning meeting for Eucharists at the surrounding churches and a procession up through the old walled city to the Duomo was in order. Songs, Eucharists, adoration and a speaker are all part of the celebration. Villa Via Sacra, our community here, was graciously invited to take part in this small town’s very Catholic and special celebration; one sister and one brother were off to a meeting all in Italian in a small classroom next to one of the town’s many churches. A compassionate, genteel yet very efficient padre organized us all.
The spirit was congenial, open and welcoming, including we, the non-Italian speaking American religious ecumenical community and the choir directors and representatives of the churches of Barga and the surrounding very Catholic and Italian villages. Now we spoke only rudimentary Italian and when we left an hour and fifteen minutes later after smiling a lot and laughing hopefully at the correct moments, we were not totally sure what we had agreed to or what we were going to be a part of but it did all seem wonderful. One other Italian member who presumably was supposed to help us actually spoke less English than we Italian! This is a small Italian town!
By the end of the meeting, I had crafted a sentence in Italian which I was presumably going to pronounce “thank you so much for including us in the meeting” When I began, the Italian choir director, next to me finished the sentence for me knowing instinctively the spirit I wanted so much to convey. God is amazing and it truly only mattered that we were one in His spirit. I think the Madonna of Pisa is already pleased with and blessing our celebration.
Snow everywhere…… Brugge, Paris and of course here in Barga !! Barga is high in the Apennines with mountains all around and has been enshrouded in clouds and blanketed with 5 inches of snow for several days now. Now Americans shovel and clear the streets and walkways…. but not so in Italy. The inhabitants simply close the doors, shutters, and churches and stay inside and wait for warmer weather to melt the snow! I, however, was in Paris when Northern Europe was blanketed with snowfall! Would my plane leave or not? In fact, the flight was delayed three hours as Pisa was enclosed in rain and snow and cloud cover. Relief was the primary emotion of my fellow passengers and myself at touchdown on the slushy runway. Then began the harrowing drive into the mountains snow and rain outside the car and on the roads and a slippery prayerfully done mounting to our hillside home. We prayed a lot for driving angels if there is such a category in heaven and were so thankful to arrive in the slushy unplowed parking. One brother, two suitcases and myself crawled up the unshoveled, snow-covered, slippery, steep cobblestone walkways to the villa. Now from my lofty peek I could peer out the window, over the garden, out to the roofs of the old Barga homes and enjoy the SNOW! My ecstasy about the snow at the Begijnhof has been written about in these blogs and here again was lots of snow. I was sorry to miss the blanket of snow my Brugge sisters say is there covering the Begijnhof courtyard. I did gallop for my camera and caught a few photos when the cloud cover that comes and goes allowed. The warming of the sun will take all the wonderful snow away this week but I have loved it…..twice I got snow this year. God does so love us not only once but twice I received the gift of snow. Two dogs live here at the villa; they too are ecstatic in the snows. The black poodle and the terrier leap and frolic, chasing their ball around in the snow-covered garden grass losing the ball and furiously discovering it again. Such fun was had pouncing and bounding around. Thank you, God for Snow!
I do miss the Begijnhof in Brugge, Belgium — the quiet, prayerfulness and praise of everyday life at the convent there. I have traded it for the active outreach of my home community’s mission in Barga, Italy for three months. However, every morning I still have the joy of singing Lauds at 7:15 am.
Today I glanced out the garden room window, (we are doing Lauds inside as it
is too cold in our outside oratorio on the villa grounds). Lauds,
parkas, and scarves are somehow not quite conducive to the reverence we
are looking for in the Gregorian chant service. My mind wandered to
the fact that my sisters at the Begijnhof were chanting Lauds at the
very same time. I can think of and pray for them every day at Lauds. Each morning I know exactly where my Begijnhof sisters are and I can imagine them in the church in the early morning light. We are together in spirit! Every day is the rosary is prayed at the Begijnhof at 4 pm and although I am often engaged in some activity at 4pm, I can think of my sisters praying the rosary at that time.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to actually pray the rosary ‘with them’ at 4 pm. I was in a line of four cars in an Italian car wash. In a line of four cars, there is no indication that you will be done in 30 minutes as one might be at home in the USA. This would be definitely an hour and a half stint! But….what could be better than sitting in a warm car with sunlit mountains in front of you, while watching Italian women come and go, taking the laundry in from their balconies. It was a good day for washing and drying laundry – no dryers for these ladies. So there I was, praying the rosary while I waited – just like my sisters and with my sisters at the Begijnhof. There is a communion of spirit that I or maybe we do not quite understand but sometimes we can experience it if we are open.