St. Olaf Italy Pilgrimage
Day 8. Monday, November 14. 2017 Rome
We had an early start to assure we got to St. Peter’s and through security for our 800 Mass (Hungarian Chapel off the crypt). The sacristy was like a beehive, with many sacristans trying to get many priests speaking many languages vested and ready to celebrate Masses in the numerous chapels. Afterwards we met our guide who would lead us through the remaining pilgrimage churches.
St. Peter was impressive as we arrived in the dawn. Immediately to the right as you enter is Michaelangelo’s pieta which is beautiful. The piazza had been a Roman circus, which hosted chariot races and Christian executions. St. Peter was martyred here and his body was buried in a grave that is now beneath where the altar housed in the basilica now is. The church is massive to host the crowds that come. St. John Paul (II) is under an altar in a chapel there. Up front is a statue of St. Peter whose foot is almost just a stump from wear from many pilgrims rubbing it in benediction.
Our next stop was St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome and, by extension, the cathedral of the whole church. This is another Massive church, with an altar piece that contains the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul in two reliquaries. The Sacred Steps, steps brought piece by piece from Jerusalem which Jesus was to have been sentenced on, are in a nearby building across that street. Pilgrims must climb them step by step on their knees. Unfortunately we had to go on..
The final stop was St. Mary Major. The original church on this site was one of the first churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is, again, massive. It’s major relic is the Manger in which Jesus was laid after birth.
St. Olaf Italy Pilgrimage
Day 7, Sunday. November 12, 2017
Before leaving Assisi we took taxis to the Eremo (hermitage) of St Francis (2400 feet above Assisi) and to San Damiano (below Assisi).
Even saints need a break, and Francis found a place of retreat in the caves above Assisi. Francis would make retreats a regular requirement of his order, less spirituality be lost amidst the rigors of their charism. It is a rustic place and full of rugged beauty. We saw the cave which became Francis” cell, a refectory and stopped for prayer in a chapel that serves the religious order that continues to live their today.
After our visit we piled back into the taxis to make our way down to San Damiano.
San Damiano figures prominently in the lives of Francis and Clare. It was there, when the church was in disrepair, that the young Francis hear a voice seemingly coming from the crucifix, telling Francis to rebuild the Church, which he mistook to mean repair the church. It was here that after establishing the Poorclares Francis removed them to their cloister. Here is where Clare was superior, where sh had visions and where she died. Although still housing a religious community, it is open to pilgrims on limited basis.
Afterwards we gathered up ourselves and traveled to Rome.
We stopped for Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls, originally outside the walls of Rome but now inside because of Rome’s expansion. It ha a beautiful mosaic in front, and a fine courtyard. The church is one of the four main pilgrimage basilicas in Rome, containing the body of St. Paul (less his head, which is in St. John Lateran. We had Mass in the chapel of St. Benedict.
A funny incident happened in the sacristy. Another priest getting ready for Mass asked the Sacristan the name of the local bishop so he could include it in the Eucharistic Prayer. The sacristy said, “el papa” (the Pope is the bishop of Rome).
St. Olaf Italy Pilgrimage
Day 6, Saturday, November 11
Our journey began early with a ride to the Piazza Michaelangelo for an overview of Florence. What we had toured was only a small part of this modern city of half a million people. I found myself wishing we had more time.
The three hour trip to Assisi took us to Umbria. We stopped at a rest stop to use the clean restrooms, a treasure to any traveler.
Assisi is walled mountain town, but any journey there begins below at the city of St. Mary of the Angels. There is a basilica there of the same name. It is a pilgrimage church, large and built around a number of sites important in the story of Francis and Clare. It protects the Portiuncula, a tiny church dedicated to St
Josophat, a meeting place for the friars and where Francis cut the hair of Clare as she ran away from her family to enter religious life. It also contains chapels over the hut where Francis lived, and the place where he died.
Our bus then took us up the mountain to Assisi where we entered the gates and walked the main street.
We started at the Church of St. Clare. Poorclares live here maintaining it as a cloister. The San Damiano crucifix through which God called Francis to rebuild the Church hangs in a chapel there. Below you can see a number of reliques, including the hair of St. Clare, her habit and hairshirt and clothes of St Frrancis. The incorruptible body of St Clare lies on display. (No photos are allowed.)
Assisi is a city of stone, with stone streets that wind up, down and around. Views of the lower valley are breathtaking and bells regularly toll.
On the way we encountered a church on the site of the home of the parents of Francis. There is a church inside an ancient pagan temple to the goddess Minerva. The temple is reminder that this area had been inhabited long before Francis was born.
Our final stop was the Basilica of St Francis. Even off season the basilica was full and we had to wait to for a chapel to open up to celebrate Mass. We were able to visit the chapel where Francis’ body is. We climbed to the upper church to see the frescos there.
Day 5 Florence
Our day started with the Academia, the home of the David (sorry, no closeups). Although the David is Iconic, it is surrounded by paintings and sculptures just as worthy, fitting tribute to this once art school. The sculptures that share his gallery are maybe more interested, even though unfinished works. Life-size copies of the David throughout Florence, there is no missing him, and yet the Academia is the must see.
We then went to the cathedral, Out Lady of the Flowers, a nod to Florence’s humble beginnings as a flower field. Although the exterior has scaffold around parts of it, enough of the inlaid marble exterior and many of the niches with statues are visible to still impress. Our group was taken aback by the sheer volume of the space, and the painting on the dome reflecting heaven. We celebrated Mass in a chapel, amidst noise of tourists and construction, but an honor to celebrate in this incredible space.
We made our way to the government building and the square with many sculptures huddled in a loggia. Sadly the Neptune fountain is covered by scaffolding for renovation. I greatly missed seeing it.
We had a quick look at the Arno and then navigated the narrow streets to the square of the church of Santa Croce. Santa Croce also has the inlaid marble exterior but only on the front. It is stunning both in the sunlight and at night. The church was closed due to an accident the day before. Unfortunately a tile came loose and severely injured someone.
Part of the tour was visiting a gold/leather shop to learn about these products that have always been central to the Florentine economy. Luckily we were given the opportunity to buy some for ourselves, and many did.
Art is everywhere in Florence. It is second nature and Florentines take it in stride, but there is much to impress.
The afternoon was on our own. Everyone returned exhausted but we had still just scratched the surface.
St. Olaf Italy Pilgrimage
Day 4 Padua
From Venice we went to Padua, about an hour away, the resting place of St. Anthony of Padua, patron of finding lost things.
Before Anthony became a saint, however, the local saint was Justinia, a young Christian woman martyred by Rome in the 4th century. She is the patron saint of Padua and would have been the saint venerated by Anthony during his time here. We visited the church named for her and contained her remains in a preserved ancient chapel. Also in her church are the bodies of St. Luke and St. Matthew.
We celebrated Mass at the basilica of Anthony of Padua. The basilica is made for pilgrims, large and ornate, and much to see. It’s opulence makes St. Justinia’s church look unfinished. (Sadly no photos permitted.)
Anthony’s body was originally buried in a small church which now comprises one wing of the basilica. When they exhumed the body to transferred it to the new chapel the body had decayed but the tongue and vocal cords were incorrupt. These were removed to a glass reliquary and are a main attraction. These remind us that he was a talented preacher long before he got into loss and found.
Padua has one of oldest universities in the world, and it is still is renowned. We walked the winding, narrow streets common in mideval towns, with many students present. We were encouraged to try the hot chocolate which was hot and thick as pudding.
After Padua we started toward Florence and entered tuscany. There was a heavy rain most of the way.