I’m proud to report that Emily and I have made it to the near end of our travels!
In the beginning of the trip, it was an ongoing joke that our excursions through Italy for two weeks (with preparation and delivery of a conference paper) would either make us or break us. So – we made it. In fact, we are closer now than ever, and we thank the grace of the saints for guiding us in our patience, wisdom, generosity, fortitude, and exuberance.
We didn’t mention this in our original posts, but we have had the privilege of residing quietly in Tuscany at an old Medieval Monastery for the passed 3 days. The servite monastery, now a place for pilgrims to rest on their travels, is a cross between the gardens of Eden and the dungeons of Hogwarts. During the day, the grounds are a stunning lush green, overlooking a piazza which resembles a cloister; the song of the birds beckons you to take a walk in the sun. In stark contrast at nighttime, the lights in the dark, echoey hallways are on a timer, and so one must scurry quickly from one switch to the next to avoid total blackness. This is where we have rested our heads for the last two (going on three) nights!
During the days, we were whisked away by Lucinda Vardey, author of Traveling with the Saints in Italy: Contemporary Pilgrimages on Ancient Paths and taken away to her home near San Supolcro. She and her husband John, faithful parishioners and invaluable ministers at St Basil’s, live in a former retreat home called “Milgiara”, which translates to “1000 steps to the altar”. There is a certain holy presence here that can only be experienced. Emily and I had the chance to rest and recharge here for one afternoon – much needed after the travels we’ve had, moving from city to city every couple of days.
San Supolcro, much smaller and humbler than Assisi and Siena, was a place for further pilgrimage (sites, relics, churches), more exploration (walking the cobblestone streets and getting lost… again), and great relaxation (sitting in the garden, making animal friends, and you guessed it – wine and gelato).
Emily especially enjoyed a visit to St. Veronica Giuliani’s convent and Piazza Incontro, both in Citta di Castello. Emily was captivated by St. Veronica’s biography – her mysticism and penitential lifestyle – given that she is known as a “true daughter” of Emily’s beloved personal patron, St. Clare. Emily said that she liked the simplicity of the convent’s exterior and that it was still a working community of cloistered Franciscan sisters. Piazza Incontro, which means “the square of the meeting,” was also an interesting experience because we could actually stand in the small city square (right behind the Cathedral of St. Florido), in which it is claimed that St. Anthony of Padua and St. Francis of Assisi met for the first time. Along with St. Florido, St. Anthony, St. Veronica, and Blessed Margaret, you can probably guess that this small Tuscan city created a lot of “hometown saints”, many of whom are officially recognized by the Church. Maybe something’s in the drinking water…
For me, the hi light was the grounds and interior of Monte Casale. While inside, I got to step into St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony’s cells in the Monastery, and had the chance to lie in St. Francis of Assisi’s “bed” (a stone plank atop a rickety loft). As I climbed up, it was hard to ignore the piles of letters, prayer intentions, gifts and rosaries left behind to ask for St Francis’ intercession. This put me into a deeply humbling and contemplative mood, which carried me through the rest of the afternoon. As we stepped outside, into the gardens and down the stairs, a loud, threatening bark erupted beside us. There were dogs on the property? (Should have known, with those Franciscan Monks…) Two guard dogs greeted us with gritted teeth, unafraid to let us know we had to have the password before they let us off the hook. Emily and I had a moment of striking fear, but Lucinda, in her calm spirited way, whispered “Pace e Bene” (peace and goodness), over and over. Within moments, the dogs were lulled into a calm state. Unbelievable. And hilarious!
Tomorrow, we have a 6:00am wake up call so as to be ready to take the bus to Rome again. One final night in the ‘Roma Marriott’ – a drastic change of accommodations for us – before flying out to Canada the next morning.
We will be landing in Toronto late afternoon on Sunday.
Please pray for our safe flight and final destination: home!