Friday, April 14, 2017

Norcia

Traveling from Assisi to Norcia involved walking down to the Santa Maria degli Angeli train station to take a half hour train ride to Spoleto, and from there riding a bus for about an hour up a narrow, winding and scenic road. Norcia sits on a high plain by Sibillini Mountains National Park, a rugged and beautiful part of central Italy.

For many years, travelers to Norcia could look forward to visiting a well preserved Umbrian walled city with much history, perhaps most notably being the home of twin-sibling Saints Benedict and Scholastica, born in the year 480. However, in the summer and autumn of 2016, Norcia was struck by devastating earthquakes, resulting in extensive damage to the town. One need not even pass through one of Norcia's gates to begin to witness the impact of the quakes.
Prior to setting out, I had studied a map to determine, from the bus stop, which gate to enter and how to weave through Norcia's streets to the center of town where the remains of the Basilica of Saint Benedict are located. However, just inside the walls it became clear that the maze of old streets had become a complex entanglement of blockades.
Many streets, including all inside of this gate, were blocked on this day. Typically, signs would indicate a "Zona Rossa" or "Red Zone" with entry prohibited.
Even streets that appeared safe could have buildings in danger of falling. I walked back out onto the perimeter road and hiked up to and through a second gate. There too many streets were blocked. Seeking to find a way to the center of town, I stopped and asked a lady for directions. She pointed the way I was heading, but said one must be very careful because of falling debris. I thanked her and walked a bit further, to where two men were working. As there was a barrier across the road to prevent vehicle traffic, I asked them if I could pass through. Their response was an unequivocal "No."
Having reached a dead end, I started back up to the second gate, only to have the lady with whom I had spoken pull up in a car. After a moment's discussion she indicated that I should hop in and she would take me to where I could reach the main square.
We rode further around the perimeter road, past more scenes of loss, and finally came to a guarded but open gate and a main road leading directly to the main square. I thanked my guide for her help and kindness, got out and started along the street, one of the few places in town that seemed recovered enough for normal activity.
Ahead was a statue of Saint Benedict.
But also a disheartening scene.
While the facade of the Basilica of Saint Benedict remains standing, the church itself was mostly leveled.
The extensive staging may help in preserving the facade, but it is clear that rebuilding the Basilica will take years. Next to the remains of the Basilica is the Palazzo Comunale and bell tower, which also appears in a precipitous state.
As if losing a treasure like the Basilica of Saint Benedict wasn't enough, other churches in town also sustained major damage. Earlier, when going around the perimeter road, my helpful driver had pointed out the Church of San Giovanni, which turned out to be accessible via a few open streets.
Here, too, was a discouraging scene. There was a large hole in a side wall of the Church.
Despite so much devastation, the people of Norcia may pray thankfully, being spared loss of life as occurred in other nearby communities.

On the higher end of town, reconstruction and preservation efforts were underway on the Church of Saint Anthony. Heavy beams were being lifted into place.
The oldest structures in town seemed the hardest hit, likely due to less sturdy construction practices in centuries past. In a town where many residences also are centuries old, parts of homes were destroyed as well. One building that appeared to survive intact was the town theater.
Another interesting observation, while I'm not sure how the earthquakes impacted banks within Norcia's walls, now modular banking facilities have been set up in a parking lot outside of those walls.
I mentioned Norcia being by Sibillini Mountains National Park. There are beautiful views in all directions, and undoubtedly good hiking nearby.
Finally, who were Saints Scholastica and Benedict of Nursia? (Nursia was the Latin name of Norcia) Twins born in the Fifth Century, Benedict is perhaps best known for the Rule of Saint Benedict, guidelines for the monks who followed him and for many future religious orders, while Scholastica established the first Benedictine community for women. Benedict is considered the father of Western monasticism. Some seven centuries after the time of Benedict, his followers would be instrumental in turning over old churches to be repaired by a young man from Assisi named Francis.

As Benedict's legendary status seems to overshadow his sister's holy life, I was pleased to notice the name of the small square where I waited to start my return trip home.
Before leaving Norcia, I was speaking with a local and observed how, despite all of the destruction, it was still a beautiful town. He agreed, but wondered how much it mattered with all that had been lost and how community life had been impacted. Nevertheless, on this day Norcia edged one step forward on the long journey of recovery, and one could sense the faith and hope of its residents, still blessed from above.
Ciao.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spoleto

Yesterday I traveled to Norcia and look forward to sharing the visit. However, getting there involved a layover, between train and bus rides, in the small city of Spoleto, the subject of this post. Making the most of the day involved an early walk down to the Santa Maria degli Angeli train station, with the moon shining over Assisi.
At the train station in Spoleto one is greeted by a large sculpture of… I 'm not sure what it is.
However, one may use it to frame a picture of the city all the way up to its ancient Fourteenth Century fortress, Rocca Albornoziana.
I'm pretty sure the person behind the construction of this fortress, Cardinal Albornoz, was the same person behind the reconstruction of Assisi's Rocca Maggiore fortress. The steeple below and to the right of the Rocca is part of Spoleto's Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, one of my two destinations before catching the bus to Norcia. As one approaches the Duomo, the roads and walkways steepen sharply, a problem the people of Spoleto solved by constructing escalators (a relatively new addition to the Duomo's eight century history). One of the lower escalators may be seen just to the left of the wall section below.
Spoleto's history goes back at least a couple of centuries B.C. At one point its citizens fended off an attack by Hannibal. Many centuries later (1155) the city was ravaged by Frederick Barbarossa. Fortunately the Duomo, built between 1175 and 1227, is still standing, a very beautiful church.
It also has an impressive piazza in front.
A piazza that, as this old photo demonstrates, can fill up on occasion.
Inside, the apse area is wonderfully decorated by the famous Renaissance artist Filippo Lippi and his pupils, portraying scenes from the life of Mary.
 Here is another fresco.
Walking up to and around the Rocca Albornoziana led to my second short-visit destination, the Ponte delle Torri, a Thirteenth Century aqueduct that spans a deep canyon.
Not long ago one could stroll across this remarkable structure. However, last year's earthquakes raised safety concerns, resulting in the bridge being closed. There is much else to see in Spoleto; however, with Norcia as a destination on this day, other treasures would have to wait. It was time to head back down to the bus stop.
Ciao.
P.S. Research results: the Spoleto train station sculpture (1962), is called Teodelapio, named after a Lomabard duke. It's called a stabile as opposed to a mobile, probably a good thing in light of its size and weight….

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Walk on Mount Subasio

Yesterday provided near perfect hiking weather, so I started up Mount Subasio with the first signs of daylight. Stopped for a visit at the Eremo delle Carceri before heading into the woods, finally moving above the tree line a little before 9:00 a.m.
Here's a view of Assisi before heading to higher elevations.
No one else was on the trail, and eventually I set off cross country on a steep section heading toward the summit. There's a dirt road a little below the summit, and there I encountered not fellow walkers, but flyers, more specifically a group of paragliders. This fellow was preparing to attempt a flight.
He was off to a running start, lifted off, dropped down, lifted, dropped, then eventually set down to regroup and try again.
Others were more successful on their first attempts.
Once underway, they could look forward to sailing all the way to the valley floor.
A long ways below.
From there it was on to the summit, on this day a fine place to lunch and give my walking stick a break, leaning against the marker.
There were excellent views of the Apennines from the high country.
I met few other hikers on the way back down, but did come upon a group of bulls and horses grazing together peacefully... perhaps setting a good example for the donkeys and elephants in Washington.
Hmmm. Was a little concerned about how that fence post got knocked down. A little further along I came upon a mare and her colt, who somehow ended up on opposite sides of the fence. They were moving along at a good pace, apparently searching for an opening.
Finally, with Spring arriving there were some nice wildflowers to enjoy along the trail.
So, it turned out to be a fine day for wandering and exploring on Mount Subasio. Ciao.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Early Morning Assisi

It is good to be back in Assisi. Yesterday I took an early morning walk through town to the Basilica of Saint Clare. All was peaceful, with very few people about. After entering the large basilica, I passed through a short, narrow hallway into the modest Chapel of Saint George, home of the San Damiano Cross. Matins were in progress and it was nice to see several familiar faces.

The Chapel of Saint George is built directly over the former Church of Saint George, where Francis attended school as a youth. The church also was where his remains were interred for a period of time, and where he was canonized. Later, with the construction of the basilica, a wall of the original church served to buttress the new structure. So, there are well over eight centuries of history here.

Having left California less than 48 hours earlier, being in this ancient Italian chapel awakened a sense of cultural contrast. Of late in the U.S., it seems much faith is blurred by moral relativism, much hope is placed in the government's ability to discern right from wrong, and much love suffers from a lack of commitment. Here, at a gathering in the Chapel of Saint George in the Umbrian town of Assisi, one encounters deep faith in God, hope of eternal salvation, and true love of all creation, appreciating the sanctity of all human life. In the silence of the chapel, there is peace to be found in escaping a muddled world for one of joyful clarity.

In words inspired by Saint Francis, "Lord, grant that I may seek to love rather than to be loved."

A few early morning pictures. First, the Piazza del Comune, or town square, without the daytime crowds.
Next, the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, formerly a Roman temple.
Those columns are over two thousand years old, and are among the best preserved in Italy.
It's easy to imagine Francis sitting on those steps with his friends. Next is a gift shop window, clearly oriented toward Assisi visitors.
Then a quiet morning street.
Finally, a hazy morning glimpse across town.
Pace e bene; peace and goodness. Ciao.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring Visit to Assisi

"La pace sia con te!" is a fine Italian Franciscan greeting, "Peace be with you!" What better way to begin a conversation… or a trip to Assisi? This Spring I'll be there from April 3 to May 13, and will look forward to seeing friends, walking trails and hopefully adding to these posts.
Over the past few months I was able to update the Assisi Walking Adventure Guide, available from Smashwords Press for free, or from Kindle Publishing for $1.99. Also had time to finish a paperback edition of Masses in Assisi, published under Lulu. It turned out nicely, but unfortunately Lulu sets minimum prices on its books, in this case $31.60. Fortunately, authors are allowed to offer discounts of up to 40% and Lulu seems to have frequent sales in the 20% range, a combination that brings the price down considerably. The Kindle ebook edition of Masses in Assisi is now available for $.99.
Thankfully this Peace of Tau blog is gratis. A good way to find out more about lesser known sites in and around Assisi (small towns, churches, historic places) is to type in the name of the place along with "peaceoftau", and search both for words and images. There's a good chance you'll end up with a post from the past several years.
Pace e bene. Hope to be writing more soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Masses in Assisi

For those who enjoy reading about Assisi, my journal Masses in Assisi is now available for purchase as an ebook at the Kindle Store. It's  a compilation of many of these posts and photos over a four year period, with additional insights and a listing of Mass times and locations.
Pace e bene.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cappella della Maddalena

After another fine Assisi visit, I'll be leaving tomorrow, with hopes of returning before long. For a parting post, here's a few pictures of a small treasure, one of many in and around Assisi.
On a recent morning walk on Mount Subasio, I entered the forest of the Eremo delle Carceri and found myself alone, enjoying the serenity and appreciative of how Francis must have loved to retire there for prayer.
At the Eremo, I visited a small chapel, a part of the hermitage. It's called the Cappella della Maddalena, and was built in 1484, around the time of Columbus.
It was constructed with the support of a noblewoman named Francesca de' Baglioni, to hold the remains of a well-respected brother named Barnaba Manassei, who had died at the Eremo in 1477.
Inside, there's room for a handful of people. 
Along with an altar, there's a statue of Saint Francis with birds and some flowers. A thoughtful setting for quiet contemplation.
And there is a very small bell, much in keeping with Francis' humble nature. Perhaps for announcing prayer time.
Alone and inspired, I reached over and rang it.
La pace sia con te.
Ciao.