Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rome Part 1

On Monday, we left Assisi to head to Rome. Again, heading through the Umbrian plan was an awesome experience. At one point there was a quite large Medieval town. We found out it was Palestrina. I had heard of it, but I need to research it.

I must tell you about our guide, Liz. She had met us at the airport in Rome when we arrived. I had the opportunity to speak to her. She speaks 4 different languages, English, Italian, German and French. She is from London and works quite frequently leading tours throughout Europe, Italy being her favorite. She was not Catholic, but very definitely Christian. I was very glad to have such a knowledgeable person handling a lot of the details, along with Kelli from Magnificat. Kelli is an awesome young lady from Louisiana who was a pleasure to travel with. I am sure there was so much that she did behind the scenes that made the trip go so smoothly. This pilgrimage was an opportunity for me to not worry about what was for dinner, whether the laundry was done and who was going where. Even though it was an overwhelming trip, I was surprised at how relaxed I was.

Anyway, back to Rome. We arrived in the city center of Rome in the afternoon. We took a driving tour of the Forum, Colosseum, Circus Maximus and the ruins of the massive bath-house in Rome. We visited the Church of St. Peter in Chains. Here, under the altar, are the chains that bound St. Peter, both at the Mamertine Prison in Rome and the set from Jerusalem. When Pope St. Leo I put them together to compare them, they linked together and couldn't be unlinked. Here we prayed specifically for our archdiocese, our bishops and priests, since our cathedral is also St. Peter in Chains.

Here is also Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses. When he finished it, he threw a hammer at it yelling"Why don't you speak?!" Pope Julius II had commissioned Michelangelo to make 47 statues for his tomb. Michelangelo had spent 2 years in the marble quarry picking out the perfect pieces of marble for these statues. He had hardly begun on the statues when Pope Julius pulled him off of that job to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Julius ended up being buried at St. Peter's but he is behind the organ. So much for the proud. You can check out this church here

We walked over to the Colosseum in the rain. Mark would have loved to go inside and check out the architecture, but it was too late in the day. This structure had been covered with marble, but after the fall of Rome, it was used as a quarry. The marble was used to build churches. The thing I noticed about the Colosseum was that there were three tiers of columns. The bottom layer had Ionic capitals, the middle Doric and the topmost layer had Corinthian capitals. I didn't expect to see all on one building. During the Roman empire, there was a large tarp that covered the open arena.

The Circus Maximus was a large open area used for chariot races. It was here that most of the Roman martyrs lost their lives. We also passed under aqueducts and through ancient gates in the walls around Rome. In Rome, the inner city is very vibrant, but the outskirts tend to be rougher areas - very different than Cincinnati.

Our hotel was about 2 KM away from St. Peter's Basilica. This had been a former hostel for pigrims to the Eternal City that had been built in the 1950's. It had been called the Domus Maria (House of Mary) This very large hotel is now a convention center and boasts an exquisite Chapel with a beautiful mosaic of Mary in the apse. Her were able to have Mass in a small modern side chapel.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Assisi Part 3

At the Basilica of Santa Chiara, we saw the original San Damiano Crucifix that spoke to Francis. That was a beautiful spiritual experience. Then we went to the crypt where Saint Clare is buried. She looks beautiful, like she is incorrupt, but she is not. This is a wax figure which encases her bones. I think the Eucharist was there in a tabernacle behind her; there was a vigil light there, but our guide didn't know anything about it. Saint Clare was buried here because if she had been buried at San Damiano, which was outside the city walls, there was danger of her body being stolen. In another area of the crypt is a reliquary with Saint Clare's blond curls that St. Francis cut off when she chose to follow Francis and Jesus. There were also several habits that she had made for Francis and herself, plus a deacon's robe for Francis. That was very large. I guess it got gathered up when he put on a belt. Click here for further information.

Several people in our groups met the bishop of Assisi in Saint Clare's Plaza. He asked our prayers because his diocese is lacking in strong faith.

As we approached San Damiano, we saw a bronze statue of St. Francis sitting and gazing over the countryside. This place is a peaceful quiet place surrounded by olive trees and umbrella pines. We walked into the small chapel and were able to sit on the built in stone benches that Francis probably sat in. It is so small, about the size of my living room. This is where St. Francis heard the Lord talking to him through the familiar Byzantine crucifix, telling him to "Rebuild my church". We also saw the Poor Clare's refectory with the original furniture that Saint Clare and her sister's used. Upstairs was the dormitory where all the sister's slept. Here St. Clare held the monstrance out the window when the Saracens were invading. They don't know if they had invaded the inner courtyard, or the outer, so that are not sure which of 2 windows she used. This is also the spot where she had her vision of Christmas Mass at St. Francis Basilica, and where she died. What a place for prayer! To be in the places where Francis and Clare lived and prayed and died was indescribable. You must go some day. I wish we had much more time here.

The day we left Assisi, we went down to the plain to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This basilica is built over the Portiuncula, the small chapel where St. Francis and his brothers lived. There is also a little stone hut in the Basilica that marks the spot where Francis died.

There is a plenary indulgence attached to anyone who is a pilgrim to this spot. St. Francis asked the Pope for the indulgence. He reluctantly gave it to St. Francis. When he asked for how long, Francis didn't want time, he wanted souls. So whenever anyone goes to confession, visits the Basilica and prays an Our Father and an Apostle's Creed for the Pope, they are given a Plenary Indulgence. It is called the Pardon of Assisi.

Other things of note here was a statue of St. Francis in the Basilica area. There are white doves there who always choose to nest on the statue.. Beyond the statue where some windows. Outside we could see a rose garden. When Francis had temptations agains the flesh, he threw himself into the rose bushes as a form of penance. Ever since then, these rose bushes do not have any thorns.
Here is more information on this basilica.

The food was great in Assisi. We had wine every night and bread with olive oil. Then some form of pasta (the prima piatta). The lasagne was to die for. Then the secondo piatta - usually some meat and vegetables. Then a dessert (dolci). Occasionally this was fruit, or a pastry or lemon pie, or ice cream. We had a lot of fun with the server named Leo. He was about 60 and obviously loved what he did.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Assisi, Part 2

That evening we walked up to the Basilica of St. Clare, but did not go in. The steep streets are amazing. The are mostly cobblestone and parallel - going up the mountain. They are connectors between the streets - passageways with steps. Some have buildings over the top of them. There are about 2000 people who live in Assisi - about 90 percent of them religious. We passed some buildings that housed cloistered nuns. We did stop and get hot chocolate, a specialty of the Italian towns. It was interesting - like warm chocolate pudding. I liked it, but most of the people with us didn't. The houses are are built together - no yards to speak of. I can just imagine St. Francis as a youth running loose all over the streets and wreaking havoc in the town squares. The whole town in surrounding by walls. Some of the gates were present at the time of Francis. The ones we used were added later - especially once they built the St. Francis Basilica. This was built on the site outside Assisi where the gallows, or execution spot was. It was his desire to be buried there. He was first buried at the Church of San Giorgio, his home parish, but that was torn down when the St. Clare Basilica was built. He was moved 2 years later to the Basilica. It was built to keep Francis body safe.

The St. Francis Basilica is very interesting. There is a lower basilica built in the Romanesque style with the curved arches. There are frescos all over paint showing events in the life of Jesus and St. Francis. You can even find the most familiar portrait of St. Francis in the right transcept.
There was a tunnel made to go to Francis' tomb under the high altar. Much later, the Perugians (historic enemies of the Assisians) tried to invade the town and steal Francis' body. When that didn't work, the Perugians petitioned the Pope to let them have Francis' body, because it would be much safer in Perugia. Instead, the Pope ordered the tunnel to Francis' tomb sealed. It was sealed for 600 years. Later the upper Basilica was built over the Lower. It is in a very early Gothic style. The frescos there are also very early Renaissance style. Our guide, Marco said that this is the very beginning of the Renaissance. We went to Sunday Mass at the Lower Basilica.

The upper basilica is the one that was damaged in the earthquake in 1997. Most of those frescos have been repaired. The frescos on one side of the church are scenes in the life of Francis and the other side, Jesus.

In the 1800, Francis' tomb was opened and a small entrance was made there. Then the pilgrimages stared and most Assisians moved away. In the early 1900's they made a grander entrance and a chapel at the tomb under the altar. There , buried all around Francis are 4 of his companions, Leo, Masseo, Rufino and Angelo. We had Mass there Monday morning. It was so incredibly awesome to be praying at the tomb of Francis. We also prayed at the side chapels in the lower basilica. They had a chapel to St. Maximilian Kolbe there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Assisi Part 1

After landing at the Rome airport after 19 hours of travel, we headed on a bus north to Umbria and then to Assisi. Umbria is the breadbasket of Italy. We traveled through the Umbrian Plain. Both to the east and west we could see mountains in the distance. Every so often we could make out Medieval towns planted on the side of a mountain. The names all sounded familiar like Cascia, Palestrina, Spello, Spoleto, etc. We actually traveled in a tunnel under the town of Spoleto where there is a papal fortress. I had read a biography of St. Francis before we went, so many of these towns sounded familiar as places that Francis visited. Everywhere were flocks of sheep, olive groves and vineyards. Just a beautiful picture even though it was drizzling. We stopped at a "truck stop" and learned how to order food (sandwiches or pizza) and drinks in Italian style. Italians hate to form lines, so when attempting to get food, one has to catch the eye of the cashier, pay for what they want and then move to the counter with a receipt. After traveling a little while longer, we saw Assisi off to the right. At the foot of the hill was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli which encloses the Portiuncula - St. Francis' Chapel. It was the afternoon break so we passed by it and headed up the mountain to Assisi itself. We could see the back of the monastery attached to the Basilica of St. Francis. After we were let off at the bus stop, we had to unload our luggage and walk a couple of blocks through narrow cobblestone streets to our hotel, called the Hotel Giotto. We passed by many little gift shops in many little nooks and crannies of the city.

The Hotel Giotto was opened in 1899 - at least that is what the sign in the lobby said. There were little additions all over at odd little angles. The dining room was down the steps in a much more ancient part of the building. In back, the Hotel was built right into the side of the mountain. On the back side of the dining room, I could see solid rock, not bricks. The other side had a nice terrace overlooking the valley below. The dining room had very old stone arches holding up the ceiling. I had a rest soon after we got there, while Mark climbed up to the Rocco Maggiore - a papal fortress at the top of the town, which is not at the top of Mt. Subasio just on the side.

Rome, Sweet Rome

Mark and I got back from a 9 day trip to Rome, Assisi, Monte Cassino and San Giovanni Rotundo about a week ago. Talk about awesome! Everyone should make a goal in life to go on pilgrimage to the Eternal City. What an uplifting experience. We went with Dave and Janet, Leslie and Ted, Paul and Linda and Pam plus about 22 others from all over the US. Over the next several days I will be posting about what I saw there.