Friday, November 16, 2012

Arrivederci Roma

Well friends today is the last day in Bella Italia.  I bid Rome Arrivederci at 6:30am and head out to the airport.  From there to Atlanta for a long layover and then home.  Well I don't actually have a home as it was washed away in the flood and will be living with Mom and Dad again after all these years.  Luckily I have 6 more weeks of Sabbatical left to deal with the mess the floods have left behind.

Today we had Mass at the Church of St. Sebastian where the Saint and Pope Saint Fabian are buried, the Church sits atop the catacombs of Calllixtus.  We had a wonderful meal at a local restaurant and then on last pass by St. Peter's.

The Tiber nearly overflowed it's embankment while we were in Assisi due to torrents of rain.  It has since subsided considerably but this morning the wide walkway for walkers, joggers and bikes is still underwater, you can see the stairs currently lead directly into the Tiber.

 Here is one of the many plaques that survive from the periods prior to the building of the embankments which shows the level the water reached on a building, there are all over Rome. This one sits about 9 feet above the road but at the period it was put up it was probably more like 12 feet above the road.
Plaque marking flood level on a building.
 This is the Basilica of St. Sebastian on the Appian Way where we had Mass.
Basilica of St. Sebastian
 This is the monument marking the place of his martyrdom.  You gotta love the Italian drama!
St. Sebastian
 This Basilica is run by the Franciscans and the pulpit is St. Francis of Assisi!
St. Francis of Assisi Pulpit
 We then crossed the Street have lunch at Cecilia Metella Restaurant.  This is the house special a thin spinach pasta boiled for 2 minutes, mixed with cream and cheese then put in this pottery vessel with a thin sheet of pasta on top, more cheese a small dolop of tomato Sauce then baked.  The pottery vessel is custom made for them and it resemble the tomb of Cecilia Metella, a Noble Roman woman married to Senator Crassus during the Imperial period of Augustus.  Again the drama, you eat your meal in a reproduction of the mausoleum down the street!!  This was the second course.
House Special
 Everyone enjoying their mausoleum meal!  The Last Supper!

Arrivederci!        Santa Pietro, Ora Pro Nobis!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pace e Bene

Peace and Good, this is a traditional Assisi greeting or salutation, it is the Italian of the Latin 'Pax et Bonum',  which St. Francis used to greet people.  Peace and Good, that is what Assisi was, is and I hope always will be, it a slice of heaven on earth.

On this last day on the mountain we had Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis right there at his tomb with the four founders tombs surrounding him.  It was richly spiritual.  As our retreat director noted it is one of the holiest places on earth and one of the most popular of pilgrimages.  The Mass was at 9am so the poor folks who showed up on the tour buses has to look in from the back of the Chapel.  Towards the end of the Mass the natives were restless and when we started the final hymn they broke ranks and flooded forward eager to pay their homage and ask for the intercession of the Poverello.  

The retreat director told a story about St. Francis that was wonderful for the start of this Year of Faith.  St. Francis was walking when he came upon a beggar who was weeping profusely.  Francis bent down to comfort the beggar and asked him why he was so dejected, depressed and weeping.  The beggar replied, "Love is not loved by it's beloved".  With that the beggar vanished and Francis understood the message Jesus, disguised as the beggar, was giving to the world.  We must all strive to love God who loves us.

After the Mass (and a bit of shopping) I made the pilgrimage to the Church of San Damiano.  Francis had a vision of Jesus who told him, "Go rebuild my house which is in ruins".  Francis thought he meant the decrepit parish Church of San Damiano and he began to rebuild it in exchange for a place to sleep.  So even the Saints sometimes miss what God wants!  God wanted him to rebuild the Church, also a good message for us in the Year of Faith!

The Church eventually became the Convent of the Poor Clare's until they moved to the safety, at the request of the citizens of Assisi, of the walls of the City.  It then reverted back to the Friars who maintain it today.  When I visited there almost 30 years ago it was steep, very steep, climb down on crushed rock and you basically slid down the path.  Today the path is paved, though still very very steep and you walk through olive groves.  

If you look to the left of the building you will see the faint outline of a small Church, the area with the round window, door and small window, this is the original Church of San Damiano, it was later added onto.
San Damino
 This is a Statue of St. Francis outside at the base of the stone ramp that takes you to the Piazza.
St. Francis
 This is the monastic enclosure of the Poor Clare's, this was their cloister in the time of St. Clare.  You can see the well in the center from which they received water.
Cloister of St. Clare
 I could not resist a close up of these flowers.
Lenten Rose in the Cloister
 This is the Rose Window in the Church
San Damiano Rose Window
 This is a photo of the Apse Fresco in the San Damiano.
Apse Fresco
Pace e Bene!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Carcere and La Verna or Bust

The Carcere is a place outside the city gate of Assisi, about 4 miles from where I am staying.  This morning I hiked up to this place at nearly the top of the mountain.  It was at the Carcere that St. Francis would go to be alone with God.  There he had a small cell and lots of woods.  It is a particularly beautiful and remote place.  It is also a vertical climb the whole way and takes about 1 1/2 hours on foot.  I arrived in time to be invited to celebrate Morning Prayer with the Friars and Nuns and stayed on for Mass.  Afterwards a I walked some of the paths.  Because of the altitude it is also much colder than Assisi.

This is the "bed" of rock that St. Frances slept in when he was at the Carcere.  The stone is polished from the thousands of pilgrims who have reached through the rail to touch the place where the Saint slept.  It is very small, the rest of the room is the same width as the bed.  As you can see the Friars keep fresh flowers in a vase there.

St. Francis Bed at the Carcere
This is his private chapel and adjoins his cell, just outside this room on the outside is a cistern where he hurled a demon that was tormenting Brother Ruffino.  Today pilgrims through coins into the cistern.
St. Frances private Chapel at Carcere
In the afternoon we made a long trip by taxi to the Mountain of La Verna, about 1 1/2 hours away from Assisi in Tuscony.  It was here Francis spent his summers and it was here he received the Stigma - the wounds of Jesus.

This is the habit he was wearing when he received the stigmata.  You can see a good deal of it is missing, this is because it was cut for relics, particularly the center where the side wound had stained the habit with blood.
Habit St. Frances was wearing when he received the Stigmata at La Verna

When he received the Stigmata Brother Leone marked the place with a cross to commemorate the event, now this stone with an oil lamp and flowers marks the spot in a very beautiful chapel
Place where Frances receive the stigmata in La Verna
The Basilica and the chapels at La Verna are decorated with some of the finest Andrea Della Robbia Majolica in Italy, there are priceless.

The photo below is above the Altar in the Chapel of the Stigmata.
Della Robbia in the Chapel of the Stigmata
 Sunsets over La Verna, doen't it look like I am in the clouds taking this picture?  Well the place was rather heavenly!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


St. Frances was called "The Poverello", the little poor one.  He called himself a "lesser brother".  Here is his tomb, it is located in the 3rd Church or bottom level of the Basilica bearing his name.  The first Church built is now called "the lower Church", the second Church was built over it called, The Basilica of St. Francis and in the 19th Century the last Church was excavated out from under the lower Church so pilgrims could see Frances tomb.

The coffin is made of stone and is the solid block of limestone with iron bars around it just above the burning candles.
Tomb of St. Frances
The internet is very very slow tonight so I think only one photo will be possible as it took me 15 minutes to upload this one.

Today we had Mass at the Chiesa Nouvo, the New Church.  It is built over the house where St. Frances grew up.  Preserved in the Church is the prison cell his father held him in to force him to change his mind.  There is a statute of his parents outside the Church with his mother holding broken chains, she convinced her husband to release their son so he could begin his mission.  There is also the door St. Francis used to leave his parents house forever.  Also under the Church is St. Francis workshop.

Down the street is the stable he was born in.  He was most likely born in a stable because child birth was messy and Assisi women would often not have their births in the home.  There is also a theory that the manger story grew out of the fact Frances was considered a "new Christ" and so conformed himself to Christ people said his being born in a manager was like Jesus birth.

After Mass we climbed to the top of the mountain to the fortress one of the Franciscan Pope's built and walked around to see the spectacular view.  Once the fog cleared on could see all the was to the City of Perugia.

In the afternoon we hiked to to the St. Mary of the Angels, the place where Frances lived and where he died.  The Basilica is built over the little Chapel St. Frances built.  We then Hiked back, a vertical climb back to Assisi!!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tears of St. Clare

Creative title today, another words - it has been pouring rain here all morning!  While others find this particularly distressing I find in it a certain beauty and calmness, even a reflectiveness.  Somehow clouds, fog and rain in Assisi seem to me to be really wonderful, almost magical!

The morning fog traveling across the city
 We had Mass this morning at St. Clare Basilica in the Chapel of St. George.  This Chapel was once the parish Church and St. Francis attended the school here and worshiped in this Church as a youth. It was here that his body was brought after he died (it made one stop in the procession at the Covent of San Damiano for Clare to say her final farewell) and here that he was interned until the Basilica of St. Frances was completed two years later.  Eventually the Poor Clare's, at the behest of the people of Assisi, moved their convent from San Damiano to this spot inside the city walls (for their protection).  A new Basilica was built over the old Church which served as the sisters chapel until the Basilica of St. Clare was completed and the old Church became a Chapel.  When the Poor Clare's moved from San Damiano they brought with them the possessions of Clare and Francis which I showed you yesterday and the Famous San Damiano Crucifix.  This Crucifix, by an unknown artist, spoke to St. Francis and told him, "Rebuild my Church it is in Ruins".
talking crucifix of San Damiano

Himself after Mass
 There are lovely frescos in this chapel.  The chapel looks almost as it did in Francis time by the good fortune of the earthquake that hit here several years ago.  Even terrible events can bring about good things!  Since the chapel was badly damaged they decided to restore it to the way it looked in Francis time and we are the beneficiaries of this good fortune!
St. Francis
 This is considered one of the best images of Clare.
St. Clare

The taking down from the Cross

The entombment of Christ
This afternoon we go to the Basilica of St. Francis where a Conventual Franciscan will give us a tour.  The conventual Franciscans wear a black habit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pax Et Bonum

Peace and Good to you!  The motto here in Assisi, in bella Umbria, is 'Pax Et Bonum'.  If you have never been to Umbria you are missing God's country, truly beautiful, even in the torrential rain and chill.  It is a feast for the senses and here in Assisi one feels quite close to God.  It is a special place of peace and goodness.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit put it on your itinerary.

We arrived in the rain and had to make a 12 minute walk to the pilgrim hostel where we are staying not far from the Basilica of St. Francis and around the corner from Chiesa Nouvo, the Church built over the house where Francis grew up and where his father imprisoned him after he wanted to become a penitential brother.

Here are pictures that barely do justice but you will get the picture!

View of Umbrian Countryside from my window at Casa Papa Giovanni
There are lots of Churches here.  This is the Church of Santa Croce.  You enter under the arch to the right of this picture.
Santa Croce
This is the baptismal font in the Cathedral of San Ruffino.  Both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized in this font.
San Ruffino Cathedral Baptismal Font
This photo is from the Church of St. Clare and this is the crypt where her body lays in State.
St. Clare
I was in Assisi about 30 years ago and these relics were in a small dimly lit sacristy behind a grill and not easy to see.  Pope John Paul II had the Crypt Chapel of St. Clare Church enlarged and a new well lit spacious room put in to view all of the relics of St. Francis and St. Clare.  This picture is of the central display.  On the left is the tunic Francis wore at his conversion, the middle tunic is the habit of St. Clare and the tunic on the right is the habit of St. Francis.  On the floor are various other clothing belonging to them.  Their 3 knot ropes for the habit representing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Francis sandal, breviary, etc.
left to right; Francis tunic, Clares habt, Francis habit
There are some very nice shops in town.  This one specializes in Religious Goods and this is a hand written (painted) Icon of the Crucifixion in the style of the artist Cimabue.  It is done in all blues and is really quite unique and eye catching, the photo does not fully capture the colors.  It's priced at e2,300 or about $3,290.00 USD.  Not cheap!
Hand written Icon after Cimabue
The Basilica of St. Francis at night.  I went there for Sunday Sung Vespers at 6:00pm.  I sat with the Franciscan Nuns who gave me a hymnal and showed me what pages the chants were on, I chanted with the Friars and the Poor Clare's in Italian and it was sublime.  The vespers take place in the lower Church directly above the Crypt Chapel containing the body of St. Francis and the 4 Founders of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans).
Basilica of St. Francs at Night
Your not allowed to take any pictures in the Basilica and I got into trouble with a Police Officer for taking this picture.  These are scenes from the life of Christ which carry a World Heritage Declaration as International treasures of humanity. They were executed by the famous artist Giotto.  I was saddened to see the amount of damage inflicted on the upper fresco's by the earthquake.  Giotto was an extraordinary painter and the earthquake really damaged the Frescos.
Giotto Fresco of Francis Preaching

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Le Mura" - Outside the Wall

A good part of saturday was spent outside the wall.  The day began before dawn when a group of us made our way to St. Peter's Basilica for Mass on the Feast of St. Leo the Great.  Leo basically started the papacy in terms of power, scope and authority.  He was Pope at the time when there was no emperor in Rome.  The Emperor's moved to Turkey with their troops to the "New Rome", Constantinople.  The only person in any leadership role was the Bishop of Rome and people asked Leo what to do.  He organized the city, wrote kings for help in defending the City and in the most famous episode of his papacy rode out of the City to personally face the most terrifying and dreaded figure of his age, Attila the Hun.  We don't know how or what Leo said to convince Attila to turn around and go home but whatever he did it worked and the people, along with the City, were spared the from Huns terrible destructive forces.  Of course, Leo did so much more but you can read about that in the history books!

At St. Peter's we had a bit of difficulty getting in through the normal gate we use but a very nice American Priest with a special sort of passport for saying Mass in St. Peter's came to our rescue, like Leo.  He waived his passport a the Police saying only, "Their with me" and like magic we were permitted to pass.  We had already cleared the Swiss Guard check point and the young guard warned us the crabby policeman at the top would only be sending us back to him.  He was right but by God's providence that nice American came by and spared us!  Then inside it was not easy to find an Altar since this is a popular feast here in Rome (for good reason since Leo spared the City).  We eventually were given access to the Confessio where we had Mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the America's!!!  Talk about Divine Providence!  It is a chapel very close to St. Peter's bones.

After that I made the long trek outside the City to a very ancient Church of St. Agnes and then to St. Costanza.  St. Agnes was an early Christian Martyr.  She is beloved here in Rome.  She was 12 years old when she refused to sacrifice to the Roman God's and refused to be violated as she took a vow of perpetual virginity.  The story says she was stripped naked in the what is now the Piazza Navona but her hair grew and covered her modesty.  She was then dragged to a brothel but when the first man tried to rape her he was struck down, she forgave him and he was restored to health and converted to Christianity. She was then taken back to the Piazza Navona to be burned alive for the entertainment of the crowds but the flames parted around her as she prayed.  Finally she was stabbed in the neck and died.  She was buried in her families plot well outside the city.  One interesting point is that her servant was a woman named Emerentiana, a Catechumen.  She faithfully visited the grave, was herself a virgin and was martyred on while visiting the grave.  They are buried together.  The interesting point is this, she was not yet a Christian.  The people of Rome were astonished and edified by her witness and considered her a saint.  They asked the Bishop of Rome if this were acceptable and his reply was that she died as a Christian because though she had not been baptized by water she was baptized by blood.  Thus as many Catholic's know there is baptism by water, by desire and by blood.  The blood part came as a result of Emerentiana's martyrdom.

I did some geocashes and then to a dinner at Casa Santa Maria and a concert at the Church of the 12 Apostles.  This week is a series on Sacred Music here in Rome.  I leave for Assisi Sunday morning.

Mass in the Confessio at O.L. Guadalupe Altar
 Oh, I forgot to mention we went out for breakfast afterwards.  Some of us had the very traditional Roman breakfast of Cappuccino and Corinetti while others craved an "American" breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast.  I only ate one of these Corinetti, these are chocolate filled with nutella, heavenly!!!  Notice how artistic the Italians are, this cappuccino has a little leaf in the cream.  I have had leaves, hearts, funny faces, all manner of creative things made in my cappuccino cream!
 We all laughed at this photo I took.  This is Fr. Paul Josten of the Dakota's.  He said, "I don't know what is the matter with me, I am happier to see this breakfast than the Sistine Chapel, what does that say about me??"  We all laughed hysterically.  These boys are ready to come home.  As it turns out the "American Breakfast" is the Italian version.  The eggs served as a baked omelette and the bacon were two slabs of ham. It was served with raw tomato and black olives.  But those who ordered it were happy to eat it.
Happiness is bacon and eggs!
 Here are two pictures of the tomb of St. Agnes and St. Emerentiana.  I had to take it in two parts.  The whole thing is covered in little dragons and eagles, the Coat of Arms of Pope Paul V Bourghese. Some thought the Pope was showing off but this was buried under the Altar until excavations in the 20th Century allowed it to be viewed and touched.  Paul V was indeed quite vain but in this case he never intended for this to be seen, it was a personal gift of personal devotion when he had the remains transferred to this bronze coffin.

 This is picture of St. Constanza Church.  She was the daughter of Constantine the Great.  It was originally a Mausoleum and many members of the Imperial Family were buried here.  It was built next to St. Agnes because Constanza had a deep devotion to Agnes.  You can see a plaster copy of the tomb in the background, I showed you the original which is porphry and is in the Vatican Museums with her grandmother's tomb, St. Helena.  It is a round Church.
St. Constanza Church
 To get to St. Anges and St. Constanza you have to cross through the beautiful Porta Pia.  This side of the city gate is the view from inside the City, it was designed and executed by Michelangelo.  When the Italians stormed Rome to take it from the Papacy and make it the Capitol of the Unified Italy they bombarded this gate heavily.  The other side suffered significant damage from the shelling that lasted several days and was almost completely destroyed.  Today the outside has been restored but the this side was not damaged.
Porta Pia
 Here is a blurry view of the Church of the 12 Apostles where the concert was last night.  It has great crystal chandeliers.  This is the Church where SS. Philip and James are buried.
Church of the 12 Apostles.