Sunday, August 30, 2009

Via Francigena: Introduction

In August we travelled part of the Via Francigena, Vincenzo on a bicycle and me in the "support" car. We explored the part of this medieval route between Rome and the province of Siena.

This route was first documented in 990 by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury. In his diary he described the places he passed through as he returned to Canterbury after receiving the archbishop's pallium from the Pope. The roads that Sigeric followed became known as the Via Francigena (the road to France) or "Via Romea" (the road to Rome) and was for centuries used by merchants, prelates, soldiers and pilgrims traveling back and forth from the north of Europe to Rome, carrying ideas as well as money and produce. These people travelled on foot, or on mules and horses, rarely by cart as the conditions of the road varied continually.
A 14th century fresco of pilgrims in the Sutri cave chapel of the Madonna del Parto.

We found ourselves going on and off the Via Cassia to reach destinations along the Via Francigena. Our journey from Rome to the monastery of Sant' Antimo took six days and was in four segments. The following four postings are reports from the trip. (1: Rome to Sutri, 2: Sutri to Viterbo, 3: Viterbo to Bolsena, and 4: Bolsena to Sant' Antimo)

Via Francigena: to Sutri

The goal for the first part of our journey along the Via Francigena was the town of Sutri.
Vincenzo is filling up a water bottle at the fountain
in front of our apartment building before beginning his trek.
I went to the Church of San Gregorio Maggiore near the Coliseum to start my trek. It was Pope Gregory the Great who sent the first missionaries to Canterbury in the year 596, so that was probably the first time people traveled from Rome to Cantebury for spiritual purposes along a route that today is called the Via Francigena.
Shortly after following the Via Cassia out of Rome over Monte Mario, I came to dirt roads that would take me to our first intermediate stop, a shrine to Santa Maria della Sorbo.

There was a castle on this site in the 10th century and in the 15th century a Carmelite monastery was attached to the shrine of Madonna della Sorbo. The shrine is now closed for renovations. These are not the first renovations. The church was restored for the first time by the architect Carlo Fontana (1634-1714). It seems that many years ago this was a popular pilgrimage destination for residents of Rome, especially after Easter.

A small make-shift devotional altar has established itself outside of the gate that prevents access to the shrine during the renovations.

Vincenzo continues on his way to Sutri.

As we approached Sutri we encountered tufa caves, used since the time of the Etruscans. The photo above is the entrance to a pilgrimage chapel that used to be a temple of Mithra.
There are some wonderful frescoes inside the cave church,
including this Madonna del Parto.

The "modern" town of Sutri is on a hill behind me.

Via Francigena: Viterbo

A marker for the Via Francigena between Sutri and Viterbo.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Palace of the Popes

In the middle ages when the popes had difficulties asserting their authority over Rome, Viterbo became their favourite residence, beginning with Pope Eugene III (1145-1146). Between 1261 and 1281, five of the eight popes who reigned were elected in Viterbo: Pope Urban IV, elected in 1261; Pope Gregory X in 1271; Pope John XXI in 1276; Pope Nicolas III in 1277; and Pope Martin IV in 1281. Until 1271, the gathering of cardinals for the election was not called a conclave -- the word means under lock and key. After Pope Clement IV died in 1268, the cardinals meeting in Viterbo could not elect his successor. The election dragged on, ultimately lasting 33 months. It was not until city officials locked all of the cardinals in the meeting room, reduced their diet to bread and water and took the roof off the meeting hall that the cardinals elected Pope Gregory. It was Pope Gregory who made it church law that papal elections would take place in a conclave.

Viterbo is a city of lions and fountains.

This is an outdoor pulpit used by Thomas Aquinas.

La Macchina di Santa Rosa (under construction)
We witnessed the beginning of the construction of a new "macchina" for the feast of St. Rose one of the patron saints of Viterbo. (The other patron saint is St. Lawrence.) St. Rose (1233-1251) is remembered every year on September 3rd with a procession of her statue on top of a 5 ton, 30 meter tall tower ("macchina") that is a carried on the shoulders of hundreds of men from Viterbo. Tradition says that what began as a simple transport of her body to a basilica named in her honor a few years after her death, to the devotional spectacle that one can see today, began in response to a vow made by the citizens of the town during the plague of 1657. Every five years the town council has a competition for a new "macchina" design. During the 19th century they were very gothic in appearance. The last couple of towers have been very modern. The new tower that will be used from 2009 to 2013 is designed by Arturo Vittori.

Santa Maria della Carbonara
This 12th century icon should be part of every kitchen!
We found it in Viterbo's Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

Vincenzo and his bike are resting for
the next part of the journey on the Via Francigena.

Via Francigena: Bolsena

On the way to Bolsena, our first stop was
the Basilica of San Flaviano in Montefiascone.
It is an interesting example of Romanesque architecture built about 1000 AD. There are actually two churches, one on top of the other, with the upper church serving as sort of a woman's gallery. Today the upper church has a new pipe organ and is set up for concerts.

The lower church has many interesting 15th century frescoes, including this one of the slaughter of the innocents behind a contemporary statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

Birdwalk: Est! Est! Est!
The tomb of Bishop Johan Fugger is in a chapel of the Basilica of San Flavino. As the story goes, the Bishop was traveling from Germany to Rome around 1100 AD for the coronation of Henry V. The Bishop sent his quartermaster ahead to scout out inns that had good food and to sample the wine. He would write “Est!” (Latin for "This is it!") on the walls of the inns with the best wine. He was so impressed with Montefiascone that he wrote Est!Est!!Est!!! on the wall of an inn there. Needless to say, the Bishop agreed, and after the coronation in Rome, he returned to Montefiascone, spending the rest of his life drinking the fine wines of the city. For centuries, on the anniversary of the Bishop's death, people of the city have poured a barrel of wine on his tomb stone in celebration of the notoriety he brought to their wine. (We enjoyed Est! Es! Est! wine with our dinner on a couple of occasions during the trip. It is wonderful!)

The view of Lake Bolsena as we left Montefiascone.
We arrived in the town of Bolsena in time to enjoy the sunset over the water before having dinner... fresh fish from the lake.

On Sunday we made our way to the Basilica of Santa Cristina. It includes catacombs where the 3rd century saint was buried, a couple of chapels, and the main basilica dating from the 11th century.

A della Robbia terracotta is above the entrance to the basilica.

This 16th century terracotta sculpture, attributed to Benedetto Buglioni, is above the grave of Santa Cristina.

The parish priest saying Mass before the
15th century altarpiece by Sano di Pietro of Siena.

Birdwalk: The Miracle at Bolsena
Like many Italian towns, Bolsena has its own miracle story. In 1263 a priest from Bohemia was leading a pilgrimage to Rome and stopped in Bolsena to say Mass over the tomb of Santa Cristina. He personally had doubts about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and he was surprised when blood began to drip from the bread he was consecrating. The stained corporal (small altar cloth) was taken to Pope Urban IV who was residing in nearby Orvieto. The following year the Pope declared the feast of Corpus Christi, which to this day is celebrated by many towns with a path of flower petals for a procession. The holy corporal is kept in the Cathedral of Orvieto. Stones with miraculous stains can be seen in the Basilica of Santa Cristina. (Pope Julius II had Raphael depict this miracle in a fresco in the papal apartment at the Vatican.)

Via Francigena: Reaching the Goal

Our goal for this part of the journey along the Via Francigena was to reach the Abbey of Sant' Antimo. That was 88 km from Bolsena, and it included a couple of mountain top destinations along the way.
The view as we left Lake Bolsena.

Birdwalk: San Lorenzo Nuovo
The town seal.
Shortly after leaving Bolsena I stopped in the town of San Lorenzo Nuovo. It is "new" because it was built for the survivors of a malaria epidemic in the 18th century, replacing their "old" town. The town was built in only four years (1774-1778) and is an example of a 18th century town plan designed by the architect Francesco Navone. The town has an octagonal layout with the neoclassic Church of San Lorenzo on the one side. The piazza in front of the church is crossed by the Via Cassia, going north-south. This main street is crossed by wide street going to the west, from which a network of smaller streets goes outward in parallel and perpendicular lines.
I enjoyed this arm holding a crucifix on the side of the pulpit
inside the Church of San Lorenzo.

Our first "planned" stop of the day was the Basilica of S. Sepolcro in Acquapendente. The town is named after its many little cascades flowing towards a small river which marks the natural boundary between Lazio and Tuscany.
The crypt of the basilica has a replica of the Holy Sepulchre, built as a shrine that contains a blood-stained stone which came from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
A detail of one of the beautiful altarpieces by della Robbia in the basilica.

The next part of the days trip was up the mountain to Radicofani.

Radicofani's mountain top landmark is a castle tower, from the time of Charlemagne, that can be seen for many kilometers as you approach the town.

The Romanesque church of San Pietro has some beautiful works by della Robbia.

Vincenzo as he leaves Radicofani, making his way to our last stop, the Abbey of Sant' Antimo.

We have almost arrived. Vincenzo is pointing to the abbey.

The Abbey of Sant' Antimo emerged as a Benedictine abbey from a small oratory built in 352. Legend has it that Charlemagne was the founder of the abbey and he contributed money for the construction. By the 1800's there was no longer a monastic community at Sant' Antimo and when the Papal States came to an end in 1870, the property was taken over by the Italian government. There have been various government directed restorations since then. In 1992 a community of Cannons Regular (Augustinians) began making their home at the Abbey.

We joined the monks for vespers. After experiencing the prayerful Gregorian chant and incense in the Abbey church, it was time for us to conclude our journey along this part of the Via Francigena.
Vincenzo took the wheels off the bike to put it in the car for the drive back home to Rome.
We are looking forward to other journeys along this road.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Weekend in Umbria

Recently we joined friends from Caravita, our church community in Rome, for a weekend at a parishioner's country home near Todi in Umbria. We enjoyed good conversation, delicious food (including a bar-b-q) and swimming in the pool.
Here we are in the cloister of the Franciscan church
where we went to Mass on Sunday.

Vincenzo at the grill.

Larry in the sunflowers.