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MICHELANGELO – IL DIVINO

Painting is good to the extent that it resembles sculpture; sculpture is bad to the extent that it resembles painting” – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) *

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Pietà (1498–1499) at Basilica di San Pietro, Vaticano

A son was born to Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena and local Podestà, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarotto Simoni,  on THIS DAY (March 6th) in 1475 (1474 – according to Giorgio Vasari) in the small village of Caprese (today known as Caprese Michelangelo) in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy.

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Left: Rebellious Slave – Right: Dying Slave (1513–1516) at the Louvre, Paris

Second of five brothers, he will be commonly known as Michelangelo and would go on to create wonders in sculpting, architecture, poetry, and engineering. Besides being an architect in the creation of Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, this Italian High Renaissance artist who painted the ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel which includes “The Last Judgement” and created his most famous sculptures, “Pietà” and “David” amongst others; would capture the hearts and imagination of millions all over the world.

McMichelangelo’s original “David” displayed at Galleria dell’Accademia in Firenze

The endless hours spent reading a plethora of sound biographical material on Michelangelo; the hours spent studying his arts displayed at the Louvre in Paris and at various places in Firenze and Roma; the visual documentaries and movies like “The Agony and The Ecstasy” that had flashed past before my eyes – all of these conjure up an image of an extraordinary genius with infinite talent. One this day, we salute this Il Divino (“the divine one“) of Firenze who once walked upon this Earth.  Jo

MdBasilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), Firenze where Michelangelo’s tomb (designed by Vasari) is located right opposite to the tomb of Galileo Galilei  (designed by Giulio Foggini). The cenotaph of Niccolò Machiavelli is on the same aisle in close vicinity.

PS: Quoted on Page 337 of “In the Arena” The Autobiography of Charlton Heston.

(Photos: © Joseph SébastineManningtree Archive)

Viva Italia – 5: Le Celle – The Light above Tuscany

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(At Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok – January 2013)

The jingles, bells and whistles have faded – the calm has set in around me. Arriving back in Cochin from Bangkok was like a locomotive train pulling into the last station after a long journey, letting out the steam and settling down.

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(Cochin, Kerala)

But my mind is always travelling. After all these years of many visits to Bangkok, the mysterious appeal of Bangkok still pulls me to it. There are many special people there who I care about and not too many places in there I can go without someone saying, “Hi, It’s good to see you back, Jo” or similar. Missing someone is just a part of moving on…. after all, Goodbyes are not forever.

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(At Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok)

Back home, the wind has scattered one month’s deciduous leaves on the ground. But this is not unfamiliar to me. Then again, there is the blissful tranquility and peace of our home – the old, familiar pillow to rest the head on. When we are able to find tranquility within ourselves, only then it is worthy to seek it elsewhere too. I have often found it in the twinkle of a smile, in the presence of my loved ones, in the solitude of a church, up the hill at Le Celle in Tuscany, Italy.

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(View of Tuscany – taken in Assisi)

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Today I wish to write about Le Celle, a Santuario of San Francesco di Assisi situated above Cortona. It is one of the most distinctive hermitages of medieval Franciscanism – a place that draws you close to God, whoever and whatever one believe that to be.

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(View of Tuscany – taken in Assisi)

Tuscany is a place where, more than anywhere else, I breathe easily. It was at Il Porcospino, a Trattoria owned by our good friends Valerio Lo Cascio and his lovely wife Elvida in Firenze where Valerio suggested that we visit Eremo Le Celle.

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(Valerio and Elvida)

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That lovely autumn day appeared perfect for visiting this pious hermitage for which our friendly abbots of Basilica de San Antonio in Padova had so much praise. Carina and Bianca were enthralled when they first heard of this place.

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We have had a good number of wonderful meals and hearty times at Il Porcospino. There prevailed a homely ambiance exemplified by an efficient staff serving Tuscan cuisine. I have read somewhere that the most exquisite food was served for the Medicis in Firenze, especially during the time of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492). Situated right opposite the entrance of Cappella Medici, Il Porcospino have gained certain competence in their quest for the cuisine Lorenzo il Magnifico savoured.

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As we got into Valerio’s four-wheel drive, their black Labrador, Asia, jumped in and took his place in the luggage area where he was safely tucked in. Well, San Francesco loved birds and animals – Asia would be welcome at Le Celle.0

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A momentous event occurred some eight hundred years ago which would affect the course of history for many people to this very day. That was the moment when a young man named Giovanni “Francesco” di Bernardone (1181-1226), born into wealth, realized that he was personally called to his vocation – to follow the way of the apostles in poverty and simplicity. This little pauper known as Saint Francis of Assisi who cultivated austerity, but had retained his love for singing, is not a stranger to any of us.

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San Francesco is the embodiment of the spirit of Christian romance. We know of his belief that love alone, not suffering, can bring us in unity with God. We know that he had this great intuition to not keep for himself the inspiration that came to him but to pass it on to a community…..

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Even though Asia had remained quiet throughout the ride, at times resting his doggy-long snout on Bianca’s shoulder, or looking out through the window, once we started climbing the five km road through endless sloping ranks of vines and olives up to Cortona, he showed signs of impatience to get out of the vehicle.

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Way past Cortona, on the well paved path of the villages that wind among settlements on the hillsides where traffic was less, Valerio let Asia enjoy his run before our car,  a feat which is absolutely impossible on the streets of Firenze.

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The Etruscan city of Cortona with its medieval and Catholic influences, offers an interesting archaeological element to the visitor. Dominating the entire Valdichiana, this walled city, with streets and buildings dating from ancient times, offers a wonderful view as far as Lago Trasimeno. In “Aeneid III and IV”, Virgil called it “…mother of Troy and grandmother of Rome” while in 1993, Pope John Paul II regarded it as“… a marvelous city where everything speaks of God – the nature, the mountains, the woods…”

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You have to travel past Cortona in order to reach Le Celle and Chiesa di Santa Margherita located above it on higher ground. Situated around 80 km from Firenze, at about 600 meters above sea level on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, it is the birth place of many artists, namely Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini, 1596/7–1669) who designed the silver urn in the 17th century to contain the body of the great Franciscan Saint Margherita (1247-1297) which is placed on a windowed casket on the high altar of Chiesa di Santa Margherita. Likewise, artist Luca Signorelli (1445/50–1523) whose important works can be found at the Museo Diocesano, was also born here.

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Cortona is home to a good collection of Etruscan and Roman bronzes, Athenian and Etruscan pottery, and ancient coins which can be viewed at Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca in the Palazzo Casali. The Bistecca Festival (Sagra della Bistecca) is held here in mid August. This is in homage to the delicious char-grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina made from Chianina cattle. This city is featured in the book and movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003) starring Diane Lane.

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One of the first places of the friars, Le Celle is located just five km from Cortona, its structure leaning on to Mount Sant’Egidio. I was told that, more than 30,000 visitors leave behind their routine of daily life and hike or ride up to this hermitage each year. This is hardly surprising since the moment you step into its premises; you can feel the air of mysticism that engulfs Le Celle.

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I have visited few sacred places allied to early Franciscanism including Alfama in Lisbon, Portugal where Sant’Antonio di Padova was born. Though no two monasteries are alike, Le Celle, ranks amongst one of the most prominent among them where one can experience the beauty and tranquility of the uncorrupted nature.

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In the absolute silence that cloak this area, you could feel the mildness and wholesomeness of the air, you could hear the rustling of the wind, the natural sound of the running water of the stream, the chirps and calls of birds in vocal communication, see the green meadows and flowering pastures, well-watered gardens, useful growth of various trees…… Indeed, the sense of peace Le Celle exudes is almost tangible.

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Le Celle’s architecture has a predominantly medieval character to it, similar to Cortona and the habitations in the surrounding areas. Devoid of much artistic value, it has a very humble appearance.

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Constructed in an irregular manner during the period spanning 1200 to 1600 without a pre-established design, it epitomizes the poverty and simplicity of the early Franciscan architecture which gives it a charming appearance amidst the natural beauty of the surrounding leafy mountainous area – thickly populated by trees and bushes including age-old oaks, spruce, acacia, beech, sweet chestnut, cypress, parasol pine, rows of maples and olive groves with River Vingone streaming on one side.

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The sanctuary became known as Le Celle after Francesco and his companions chose it as a temporary place of domicile in 1211, few years after his conversion. To Francesco, it was a period of two halves, one was down-to-earth, the second inspired and imaginative. As per his custom, Francesco used to spent long periods in solitary and secluded places in silence and prayer because he felt it offered him better atmosphere to be with God and converse with Him.

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While he was preaching in Cortona, inspired by the brotherly love and peace spread by Francesco, a young noble named Guido Vagnottelli offered him great hospitality in his house. Impressed by the devotion and humbleness of Guido, Francesco was happy to receive him into his Order – no resume, internship experience, and credentials such as extra certification in specialized skills. Having given away all his wealth to the poor, Guido soon embarked on a rigid discipline of Franciscan ideals at Le Celle.

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Years later, San Francesco’s charisma would also conquer the heart of young Margherita who was born in Laviano near the Castiglione del Lago in Umbria and would spent the second part of her life in Cortona. She was fascinated by the Saint’s life which reminded her that you cannot convince other people of what you say unless your own life is in accordance with it.

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Similar to “Blessed Guido”, Francesco’s words also penetrated the hearts of many citizens of Cortona, springing spiritual enthusiasm in them. On many occasions they had listened to the priests but ‘without actually hearing anything’. When they listened to Francesco, they actually heard.

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(Statue of San Francesco at San Damiano, Assisi)

Seeking his future presence amidst them, the inhabitants of Cortona generously offered him the desolate site of a small chapel at the foot of Mount Sant’Egidio. Since the Lombard invasions,  it was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. We can see a similar pattern here when we think of Count Orlando Cattani of Chiusi who donated the Mount of La Verna to Francesco in 1213, which became Tuscany’s holiest pilgrimage center.

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The small chapel situated by the clear stream, the waterfall (together with the stream, it becomes active during winter), caves, ravines and trees, were originally surrounded by few small cottages of hermits and peasant dwellings.

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Here heaven seemed to reach down to earth. Francesco found it to be a suitable place where he could direct his mind completely to God – away from the world, peaceful, with the essential solitude and water. The area was engrossed in nature, beautiful and untainted, which was joyful to Francesco for he loved beauty in everything, in life. What he saw then at Le Celle is rather what the visitor sees today.

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Having chosen a cave, he built his little shelter there with stones. This is the little cell, Le Celle in which he briefly lived. We can see a boulder here which is the remainder of that early cave of San Francesco.

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We enter Le Celle after we cross the middle bridge known as Ponte Barberini, so named for having been built by the Capuchin novice Antonio Barberini (1607-1671), the cardinal-nephew of Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini – 1568-1644). Ponte del Granduca which is a bit downstream is named after Gian Gastone de’ Medici (Giovanni Battista Gastone, 1671-1737), son of Cosimo III de’ Medici and the last Medicean Grand Duke of Tuscany. He constructed it in 1728.

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The first impression as we step into Le Celle is of peace, silence, plainness and good sense. Inside the cell where San Francesco stayed and prayed, there exists his wooden plank which was his cot. All of these are retained in its original place.

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Above the door of the cell is an ancient manuscript: “Take off your shoes because the place in which you stand is holy ground.” Surrounding Francesco’s cell, other poor little huts were constructed at that time, out of natural caves or with branches of trees to accommodate his companions. They underlined the similarity of their souls to lead a life of meditation and spiritual friendship.

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Some documents cite that San Francesco visited the sanctuary in April, 1215 for Easter after having spent the period of Lent in Isola Maggiore, the second largest island on Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. In Chapter VII (105) of “Vita prima S. Francisci”, his first biographer Tommaso da Celano set down that, during April 1226 while in Siena for treatment of the infirmity of eyes, Francesco fell gravely ill. Upon his recovery, he had gone to Le Celle with Brother Elias where he fell ill again. He was escorted to the Church of St. Mary of Porziuncola (later Basilica Papale di Santa Maria degli Angeli Porziuncola) where he died peacefully at the age of forty-four on October 3, 1226. It was at Porziuncula where he founded the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor back in 1209.

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(La Porziuncola)

During that final stay at Le Celle, his body was bearing the marks of stigmata which he received in September 1224 on the mountain of La Verna (Monte Penna). That  was when Francesco documented the ideals he had believed in and his last wishes. Probably, Le Celle holds the honour of being the place where he dictated his Testament.

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(Basilica Papale di San Francesco in Assisi)

The construction of the Lower church forming part of Basilica di San Francesco on a hill at the west side of Assisi was completed in 1230 (Foundation stone was laid on July 17, 1228 and construction started as per design and supervision of Brother Elias, by then the second Minister General of the Order of the Friars Minor). In order to promote the growth of the Order and to conserve the precious places where Francesco and his first followers had stayed, in 1231, (six year’s after the death of San Francesco), Elias undertook a number of restoration and expansion works at Le Celle strictly according to the virtue of poverty loved by San Francesco.

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On the upper floor, he arranged eight cells measuring two meters by two that opened onto a long corridor that cut across its center. A door marked no: 4 with Elias’ picture above it, is traditionally believed as his cell (one of Elias’ two residences, the other being in Assisi).  It is believed that Sant’Antonio di Padova, who was educated and specially fitted to preach, was also a visitor to Le Celle during this time.

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Caught in the ideological differences between Pope Gregory IX and excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), Elias was forced to retire to Cortona in 1239 where he built a church and monastery dedicated to San Francesco.

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With the departure of Elias, Le Celle gradually lost its significance though some hermits lived there, including a community of Fraticelli (Little Brethren or Spirituali). This group of Friars Minor observed extreme proponents of the rule of San Francesco, mainly regarding poverty – his original lifestyle. Fraticelli developed into a separate entity after they were declared heretical in 1296 by the Church under Pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303).

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It was during the period of Fraticelli that the present church was constructed at Le Celle, but after their departure in 1318, the convent was left abandoned though no one proposed that it should be abolished.

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By 1537, the hermits from the newly founded Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, offshoots of Franciscans, took their turn to occupy Le Celle after it was granted to them by the Bishop of Cortona. They turned it into the seat of their novitiate.

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They led a life of extreme austerity, poverty and simplicity – as closer to the ideals of San Francesco as was practicable, working among the poor and teaching the Christian life by living it.

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Retaining the original architectural style, they enlarged the convent, constructing the highest part on the existing structure which now houses some twenty cells in the size of two meters by two on the upper level, corresponding to the number of novices who enter the Order each year to engage in prayer and work.

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The present chapel which the visitor will find adjacent to San Francesco’s cell was the Dormitory of the first community which was transformed into an Oratory dedicated to the Stigmata of San Francesco in 1614.

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It has a small altar, devoid of art objects, but only an essential picture of Madonna and Child, hanging above it. Similar paintings, including one by Italian painter Simone Pignoni (1611-1698), can be seen elsewhere in the sanctuary.

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The building also houses a Bibliotheca to cater to the religious and cultural needs of the brothers. Of the good number of old theological books, one can see leather bounded volumes of “Compendium Theologiae Moralis” by Fr Gabriele De Varceno. Apart from the vegetable gardens, the front and sides of the buildings are adorned with beautiful lawns and hedges – all well maintained.

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This atmospheric and evocative place has changed little since the Middle Ages. The humble friars of Le Celle are not bounded by its walls, but live their lives in the public eye, inspiring others to follow their example.

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The laity could observe the lives of the friars as they went on in a continuous succession of prayer and work. Rituals like daily procession after reciting Matins, etc are observed in their monastic life.

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A placard here displays the timing of their daily routine in which private prayer, public reading, communal worship and manual work are balanced.

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Over the centuries the sanctuary grew famous among the believers as a godly inheritance of the past. The serene ambiance, the simplicity of the buildings, the way of pious life, the contents of the library, the regular activities of preaching and catechesis, the grooming of the novices, the signature look of the friars – all reflects austerity and the original poverty and compassion towards every suffering person – aspects that reach out and touch the discerning visitor.

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Eremo Le Celle heartily welcome homeless people who seek their solace or anyone who want to know and assimilate the very essence of Francesco’s unique vision and wish to involve in the life of their community.

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(Valerio with Asia)

They provide facilities for spiritual retreat to priests as well as to independent groups of visitors in the little houses adjacent to the convent for limited period of time. A friar, who generously allowed us to take photographs, told me that some couples even chose the hermitage as venue to bless their wedding. The charm of San Francesco remains irresistible.

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There were fewer visitors on this day of our visit. But unlike the lot I have observed in some places of worship in Italy where they simply chatter and click photographs; loiter around in flip-flops, wore revealing tops and trousers that reach just below the knees, that impious phenomenon was missing here.

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This is not a place for sightseeing and the air of serenity draws your attention to the notice that enjoin strict silence – for almost everywhere you walk, San Francesco’s spirit reappears.

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As I walked out into the side courtyard, I could see Asia happily moving around on the paved ground in the company of Bianca. He was staring at the swallows darting by the old oak tree. Upon seeing me, he came running towards me. How happy he appeared in this special place…

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At this point, I could hear bells ring – calling the friars to pray. It is time for us to leave – for now. I believe I will come back here another time and I know I would be welcome to this magical experience. When you start believing, you will discover that all things are really possible. San Francesco was a house without windows or doors. We all could come and go – in peace. Ciao, Jo

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PS: Asia left for dog heaven in November 2012.

Paintings Courtesy:  Wikipedia Public Domain:

1) “Êxtase de São Francisco de Assis “ (1642) by Jusepe (José) de Ribera (1591-1652);

2) “San Francesco di Assisi “ (1597-99) by Lodovico (Il Cigoli) Cardi (1559-1613);

3) “Estasi di Santa Margherita” by Jacopo Alessandro Calvi (Il Sordino – 1740-1815)

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine-Carina Simeon-Bianca Celine Diane-Andrea Lalis Sebastine/Manningtree Archive.)

Viva Italia – 4: Amore Piazza San Marco, Venezia – Com’ era, dov’ era

It breaks my heart when I think about the recent floods in Venezia which submerged the stone pavements of one of the greatest urban spaces in Europe, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and water gushed into the Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of St. Mark). With water levels reportedly rising to a critical level of 59 inches above normal, they say it was the “sixth-highest level since records began in 1872”. Even though floods are no stranger to Venezia since this phenomenon occurs almost annually as a consequence of eustasy (rising sea level) and subsidence (lowering of the land), the frequency of the floods are rising. It not only brings about great inconvenience to the Venetians but also inflicts immeasurable damage to the Piazza, to the bell tower, the underground passages and all around damage and instability to an area that was once proven as the best part of the Rialtine islands due to its harder soil.

 

Although, other tourist destinations of Italy like Firenze and Roma definitely registered better in flow of the tourists owing to the floods, I believe, this time, shops like Carlo Pazolini (Via Sestiere, San Marco) must have done brisk business in sale of waterproof footwear. Moving pictures of tourists wading through the water with plastic bags covering their legs and carrying suitcases on their shoulders flashed on televisions across the world. Whilst the rain hammered over the canals, the landscape had become dreary and you could see numerous traghetti (Ferries) and vaporetto (steamers) plying at a dull pace through the misty Canale Grande.

The gondoliers who normally look quite cheerful standing up (its second nature to them) on their black Triton looked wet and sullen. It should come as no surprise to find those who do not fancy walking around hours in wellingtons or over makeshift wooden walkways rather prefer the other non-waterlogged Campos of Venezia, off the beaten path, or walk around through the numerous alleyways with Italianized street names (the English names of artists and writers were changed during World War II), exploring whatever they are interested in.

 

With its intricate network of big and small canals, countless bridges, there is a mystic quality in Venezia that draws you there, at least more than once.  Whenever we are in Italy, especially in Padova, we would hop the short distance to Venezia to spend a day or two at this once principal gateway between the West and the East on which their commerce and wealth was raised.

 

According to tradition, Venezia was founded by Italian refugees fleeing the mainland for the safety of the islands occupying the Venetian lagoons when the Lombards attacked their cities in the late 6th century. They built houses on the muddy patches of land and made most of the abundance of fish and salt of the lagoons. It was in 697 AD that an alliance was finally formed by the communities scattered throughout the islands and elected their first doge – the ruler. By 12th century, Venezia had become a thriving city rooted on maritime trade and the city’s symbol would become a statue of the winged lion of San Marco, booty from the sacking of Constantinople.

 

Presently, there are two Venezias: one of the canals and the other, of the streets, which we had explored numerous times. There is an immense wealth of important art in Venezia.

I had an early breakfast one day before going for a morning stroll through the beautiful streets of Venezia to the busy fish market, one of the city’s heritage sites, at the foot of the Rialto Bridge where fish was being sold for more than 1,000 years. This market was scenes of protests during last year when it was under threat of shifting for expanding the docks for the cruise ships. As I passed the market-workers coffee stalls, I could hear a Veneziano greet his friend in Venetian dialect: Come, let us go have a glass!.

Hither and thither, your eyes could catch charming bits of ancient architecture, patches of brilliant colours, little shops and shrines.  Though some of these alleyways are rather obstructed by scaffoldings supporting the rundown structures, here you could come across many bàcari, simple stand-up bars, that offer modest selection of wine and cicheti, traditional snacks made of local meat and fish: polpette: fried meatballs with a mixture of veal, potatoes and spices, or fried calamari or boiled octopus, etc. You could squeeze in next to the locals as they ate cold slices of polenta topped with mortadella or pickled fish, or halves of Mozzarella di Bufala with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil. During mornings, you could enjoy an Ombra or Ombretta which is the Venetian custom of having a small glass of wine in the morning. I tried that at the seafood Trattoria “Alla Scala” located at Corte Lucatello between Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco.

 

Having spent half an hour at Chiesa di San Giuliano (dedicated to San Zulian/Julian who was martyred with his wife Basilissa in 304 in Alexandria) with its beautiful interior designed by sculptor/architect Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino (1486-1570), I finally decide to give my legs further rest at Caffé Florian at Piazza San Marco, the only piazza in Venezia since all the others are called “Campo”.

As I stepped into the Piazza now inundated with tourists, the ornate Basilica di San Marco stood at the Eastern side like an opulent backdrop to it. Sometimes called “Chiesa d’Oro” (Church of Gold), this place of historical association and worship for Venetians is the repository of the remains of San Marco, the second Evangelist and traditional author of the Gospel of Mark. His remains were secreted out of Alexandria (Egypt) in 828 and brought to Venezia hidden in salted pork to hoodwink the Muslim guards though it is believed that the head of the Saint remained in Alexandria. Looking at the basilica from the Western side, I could see Palazzo Ducale to its right – both the edifices richly decorated with vermilion, blue and gold.

To my left, on the Northern side is the 152 meter long Pietro Lombardo’s Procuratie Vecchie (Old Procuratie) with Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) situated at its end. Legend has it that the men who made that famous clock were blinded to prevent them from making another one for somebody else.

Procuratie Vecchie’s ground floor now houses the shops while offices occupy the upper floors. On the Southern side starting from the Campanile down is Procuratie Nuove (New Procuratie) designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, which appears weaker compared to Sansovino’s (yes, the one who designed Chiesa di San Giuliano mentioned above) better design for Piazzetta’s Libreria Vecchia. Construction of Procuratie Nuove began in 1583 and completed in 1640 after removal of Hospice Orseolo and some other buildings, setting the Piazza San Marco to its present boundary. You can see some of the demolished buildings in the painting “Procession in Piazza San Marco” by Bellini posted here.

This structure was the Royal palace during the Kingdom of Italy under the rule of the House of Savoy in 1861. Presently, the upper floors are occupied by the Museo Correr which features the art and history of Venezia. On its ground floor is where Caffé Florian is located, my present destination. Lining the Western side, where I am standing, is I’Ala Napoleonica (Napoleonic Wing) built on the site of one of the oldest churches of Venezia, the Church of San Giminiano, to extend the Royal Palace.

 

The highest structure in the Piazza is the Campanile (Bell Tower) of about 99 meters (320 feet) height – the eyes of the city watching over the lagoons. The construction of this tower is said to have begun in 912 opposite the Porta della Carta of Palazzo Ducale, but that structure was lost on the morning of July 14, 1902 when the tower gently collapsed, destroying the Loggetta and the Northern side of the Libreria Vecchia though, by the Grace of San Marco, as Venetians believe, not a single person was hurt except a caretaker’s cat who was actually rescued to safety but ran back to retrieve something – no doubt its nine lives were up. The Basilica di San Marco and Palazzo Ducale (which is not built on piles but rests on a stratum of stiff clay) situated few feet away were, at that time, only breezed with the onrush of debris and dust which made the Venetians claim that “San Marco has been a good fellow”. The construction of the present bell tower upon the same foundation that was found to be strong enough, had started immediately and completed by 1912.

  

I have often seen large queues of tourists waiting to pay Euro:8 for the ticket at the entrance of the Campanile to go up the giant brick square shaft through the lift or a spiral ramp. There, you can experiment your photographic genius on fabulous views of Venezia, the stripped dome of the 17th century baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute  built in gratitude for surviving the plague, located at the entrance to the Canale Grande; or look north to the Alps, or at the Adriatic in the south. At the apex of the bell tower which now houses only the largest among the 5 five bells, is the golden statue of Archangel Gabriel fixed on a rotating weathervane that moves to the direction of the wind. When the tower collapsed, the angel had fallen right in front of the Basilica, miraculously without so much of damage. Except for Marangona (named after carpenters), the other four bells were destroyed when the historic tower collapsed. In earlier times, each of the bells had a special purpose, of which Maleficio (Renghiera), the bell of evil omen, tolled for the execution of criminals.

During the days of war, the Venetian kept vigil on the sea from its bell chamber, at times gaping at burning ships or just looking at the masses of red-tiled roofs, chimneys to the mainland and beyond. It was from here that some of the powers that be of Venezia watched Niccolò and Matteo (Maffeo) Polo set out on a journey to the East in 1260 and again with Niccolò’s son Marco Polo and two missionaries in 1271. If the writings of 16th century travel writer Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) is true, they had also watched Marco Polo command a galley against Lamba D’Oria (1245-1323), captain of the Geonese fleet when he arrived with 70 galleys to attack Venezia at the naval Battle of Curzola near the island of Korčula (now in Croatia), on September 9, 1298 in which Polo was captured. During our time, tourists used to carry a glass of wine to the center of the Piazza and stare at the magnificent Basilica while la Marangona bell of the Campanile struck the midnight hour – perhaps there is another tradition behind that….

The 320-foot Piazza represents the central place of the city life of Venezia.

 

We had spent countless hours walking around there amongst the throngs of people of many tongues in different costumes, the children enjoying the thrills of the massive number of fluttering pigeons, feeding them, laughing at the possibility of getting smeared by their droppings.

 

Once upon a time known as Broglio or Garden, this area was a grassy field consisting of a third of today’s space. I understand that a large elder tree stood on the site of the Campanile beyond which a river ran to the Canale Grande. In 1176, that area was filled up by the orders of Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-78) who also demolished the fortifications that existed there and paved the Piazza westward to the present boundary. As I stated above, the church of San Giminiano which existed at the South-West end would be demolished only during Napoleon I’s era.

 

No doubt, the hand of commercialism has now taken its grip on the Piazza, its corridor alleyways and spilling over to the outdoor seatings of the cafés. Over the last many years, I have noted a sort of deterioration in its cleanliness.

 

By now I have joined with my wife Carina at “Caffé Florian” where she had reached a couple of minutes earlier. Many a times we have sat at the outdoor tables of one of those cafés lining the sides of the Piazza, more often at “Caffé Florian” enjoying coffee or glasses of red wine and hors d’oeuvres, listening to the bells of the Campanile. I could see a boy sitting with his parents at the adjoining table enjoying a delicious looking tiramisu. Desserts are elegantly served in the northern part of Italy while, in comparison, the Southern versions are more sweeter. The boy was wearing a Venetian style black and gold Baroque half-mask which reached till the tip of his nose.

How wonderful it felt to sit there and have a cup of steaming hot coffee, take loads of pictures or enjoy watching people from different nations mill around amidst legions of pigeons barely parting for their feet. Some indulged in taking pictures, posing for cameras, their faces gleaming with happiness just for being there. I also found people in thoughtful concern, possibly fussed over the damage those protected pigeons inflict to the buildings that surround the piazza, a primitive, quite beauty brimming with history.

 

What’s more, those pigeons strutting about the feet are also historically connected to Venezia through Doge Enrico Dandolo who, we are informed, sent news to Venezia through a carrier pigeon about his victory over Constantinople. Or else, maybe they are unhappy at Venezia for having allowed those huge advertising hoarding of modern beauty products to obstruct the wonderful views of ancient architecture and works of art lining the Piazza. Or perhaps, knowing of the past splendor and prosperity of Venezia, they may be thinking of how wonderfully brilliant those buildings must have once looked and how much they are now in need of occasional cleaning/restoration.

It is the Venetian merchant Pietro della Valle (1586-1652) who introduced the coffee beans to Venezia. He is documented as the person who first imported the ancestors of the Persian cat into Italy in 1626. The most renowned of the coffeehouses that sprouted in Venezia is the famous Caffé Florian founded in 1720 by Floriano Francesconi who shortened his name to Florian as Venetians usually do. Located in the Procuratie Nuove of the Piazza, it had gained supremacy due to its position to the Molo (the main landing stone quay by the Piazzetta that was once the official landing spot) where sacks of coffee beans arrived together with silk, etc transported by the Venetian galleys.

The decorations in the interiors of many residences, hotels, and restaurants (including Caffé Florian) that featured silk fabrics is from the tradition that goes back to the times when luxurious and precious textiles for display at spiritual services were brought from the East by Venetian traders and pilgrims. Ever since, It had played an important part in the development of design and style in the Romanesque art. Spiraling into a symbol of the city and a stage for social communication, Caffé Florian became part of the cosmopolitan Venetian lifestyle, a place populated by aristocrats, merchants, artists, the famous, and now later ….us.

Of the many famous patrons who enjoyed its interiors furnished in purple satin, painted panels, mirrors, etc, I could easily think of Giacomo Girdamo Casanova sitting there enjoying biscotti and liqueur in female company. After some search, I came up with some of its famous patrons: George Gordon, the English poet, Lord Byron, Antonio Canova, the sculptor, Alfred de Musset and his lover George Sand (Aurore Dupin), Goldoni, the Venetian playwright, Goethe, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Marcel Proust, Pirandello, Rousseau, Stravinsky, Modigliani, Wagner, etc. When Wagner regularly visited Florian during breaks from writing the second act of “Tristan and Isolde”, the band would suddenly switch to his music. Silvio Pellico and Daniele Manin used to sit there and discuss politics when Manin played a major role in the history of Venezia. During the Austrians military siege in 1849 when Venezia suffered bombardment from guns, the Austrians’ attempt to use a fleet of large balloon bombs did not work out. Fortunately, the Piazza was left undamaged from cannonballs as it was out of range of the Austrian guns. The Piazza also witnessed the assault on the Campanile by armed Venetian separatists to proclaim “independence of Veneto” during the night of May 8/9, 1997.

 

Fast forward to 20th century and the list of patrons becomes endless…. And through it all, I could picture Aristotle Onassis sitting there in early summer of 1957 after having met Maria Callas at that year’s party of Elsa Maxwell. Years later in early 1970s, Christina Onassis and friends would be there. Some time in 1955, Katherine Hepburn met Rossano Brazzi there in David Lean’s Summertime. Ernest (Papa) Hemingway was there…Prince Charles and Diana might have been there when they visited Venezia in 1985… My mind now drifted to the outdoor band playing Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world”.

 

Facing Caffé Florian is Gran Caffé Quadri, the haunt of the Austrians during their rule of Venezia in the 19th century. Originally known as Il Rimedio in 1638, it switched to the present name when Giogio Quadri purchased it by late 1700s. After changing hands in 1830, I heard, it went to the Alajmo family playing host to personalities such as Lord Byron, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, Wagner, etc. We had had a sumptuous dinner there last night when Carina preferred Fegato alla Veneziana and polenta while Bianca had Bigoli col Tocio. I was happy with Isogliole in Crema di Gamberi. We had had dinner here last year when Andrea was here. All these main courses were served on Murano plates we enjoyed to the joy of charming service and delightful music of the 121 San Marco Band. I forgot the name of the wine. Italians are wonderful people – the wine they offered last night had tasted just fine for the occasion.

Thinking of all those illustrious personalities brings to my mind the picture of the bustling Piazza of those days: populated by a pageant of signorine in gorgeous costumes, signore in regular suits from which the vendors stuck out like sour thumbs, fashionable youth, the horse or mule-carts, sentry marches, bull-baitings, band performances, the beautiful solemnity of candle-lit processions, the constant religious activities in front of the Basilica and Palazzo Ducale, the aristocrats and wealthy traders socializing at the Caffé Florian. During summer nights, the Piazza would become livelier – a great deal of repetition ….

 

Being the main hub for tourists, the shops and the restaurants in its vicinity have been indulging in ways to turn a handsome profit offering outdoor seating with bandstands where quartets played during April-October. However, the outside concert has a tradition that goes back to more than hundred years. In olden days, there were wine sellers situated at the base of the Campanile and they used to move their carts keeping up with the shadow of the Campanile when they sell cool wine during hot summer months.

 

The best time to browse through the shops lining the Piazza is in the morning just after the opening time when the Piazza is fairly devoid of many tourists. Then you can conveniently feast your eyes on the wide variety of touristy artifacts intermixed with Chinese reproductions. In between all this, especially on the further left side of the piazza near to Torre dell’Orologio, there are good displays of genuine Murano glass works that could give your heart a break. Besides the Basilica, the other places of interest in the vicinity are the Palazzo Ducale, the Correr Museum, etc. If you care to explore the side streets, there are some small shops dealing in antique crafts, old books, paintings, set amongst clean cafés catering at reasonable price.

 

The waiter of Caffé Florian was charming and chatty as he noted our selections for the lunch. Insalata Mista with cheese Gnocchi ordered by Carina, As for me, I decided on Triglie all’Orientale, Red mullet in Eastern style. Veneto being the land of great wines, we had a Schiopetto Podere dei Blumeri Rosso 2006.

 

San Marco Square can be a bit stuffy at times, but today there are fewer tourists. During the course of the history, the Piazza San Marco has gained an iconic status as the place that symbolizes Venezia in the eyes of the world. It was here in the Piazza where the helicopter landed with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima in 1959 as part of its triumphal march, encircled by the radiant escort of doves, throughout the Italian peninsula leading to Italy’s solemn consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

 

I was not there when that happened. I was not there when the emperors and kings, dukes and marquesses, knights, burgesses, counts and such people of authority were there.

I was not there when artists such as Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, or the Doges such as Enrico Dandolo or Lorenzo Tiepolo, lived there. I was not there when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn romanced there in Roman Holiday, nor was I there when Daniel Craig ran around looking for Eva Green in Casino Royale. I was not there when the Romeos and Juliets from Bollywood like Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone of Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) performed wiggles and shakes to rhythmic beats. I was not there last Wednesday November 21 to eat a bowl of “Castradina” soup made of smoked mutton and cabbage when it was served in restaurants around the Piazza to mark the celebration of the Festa della Salute  in remembrance of the plague of early 16th century. But I was there when the pictures you see here were taken. I was there when the outdoor band played Laura Pausini’s La Solitudine and Luciano Pavarotti’s version of O sole mio ushered in sadness into my heart. And I wish to be there many more times….. for my children to be there with their children and so on…..

 

 

On November 1, I wrote about Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon which miraculously withstood destruction from devastating earthquakes that destroyed the city around it. Proving how wonderful citizens of this world can be, Lisbon was rebuilt with great effort from generous handshakes of help that reached to it from all parts of the world. Here I draw your attention to another catastrophe that was waiting to happen about which all of us are well aware of and expert action is being taken by groups like Consorzio Venezia Nuova to protect historic Venezia. What is important here, compared to Lisbon, is that in the case of Venezia, there will not be any land to rebuild it. Some of the columns and doorways once on ground level are already submerged. Experts have located few older pavements beneath the present pavement of the Piazza.

 

Venezia is not neglected since works that have been going on for some years to fix moveable barriers that would rise from the sea and protect Venezia from high tides is expected to be operational by 2014. However, taking into account the research report of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of University of California, San Diego that the city is sinking at a rate of 2mm a year, our help should not require a necessary pre-condition: disaster! Symbolically speaking, a handful of sand from each one of this world could solve that….

 

Venezia has given us hundreds of years of history and art. The Venezia that we love must exist for the future generations, too. As the Venetians say: “Com’ era, dov’ era” (as it was and where it was), We must all strive to find ways and means to save La Serenissima (the most serene) from her misery. That is our dream and I truly believe that dreams do come true – one day. Viva VeneziaViva San Marco…. Till next time. Ciao, Jo

 

 

(All Photos: © JS-CS-Bianca Celine Diane-Andrea Lalis Sebastine/Manningtree Archive.)

(Paintings of: “San Marco” by Jusepe Leonardo (1601-53);  “Procession in Piazza San Marco” (1496- aka: Procession of the True Cross in Piazza San Marco) by Gentile Bellini (c. 1429-1507);  and  “Piazza San Marco with the Basilica” and “Piazza San Marco in Venice” by  Giovanni Antonio Canal (il Canaletto – 1697-1768) – Wikipedia – Public domain)

Scoppio del Carro, Florence, Italy

For many years the enchanting land of Italy played host to us during our yearly visits. Such frequency is ample proof how irresistible the charm of “Bel paese” is to us. Italy perfectly fitted our idea of a beautiful panoramic tapestry running its length and width – endowed with all manners of fine features: nature, history, religion, tradition, arts, architecture, cultural heritage, romance, wine, cuisine and enthusiastic people. Giuseppe Verdi rightly praised it when he said: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”

But at these times, the mood is sombre. Italy is in the news for the wrong reasons – just as in the case of numerous countries. Many of us are on self-quarantine observing sanitised lifestyles, keeping social distancing day-to-day as precaution against a deadly virus hell-bent on wreaking havoc across the planet. The airports, railway stations, streets, stadiums, theatres, Malls, gridlocked traffic – all remain empty.

But what we see around us is love in action – the proclamation that the truest thing about us by this isolation is not our brokenness, but our belovedness. Our adherence to self-quarantine is the most remarkable act of human solidarity to conquer this daunting virus and it inspires me to remain confident of our people’s ability to rise to any challenge.

During this Eastertide when there is time for quiet reflection, I focus on our past visits abroad, especially to Italy when we had the pleasure to witness Scoppio del Carro at Florence during Pasqua 2012. The relevant post is reblogged below. Jo


Easter Sunday in Florence. The sky was overcast with dark clouds, as we walked up Via dei Servi, bound southwest towards Piazza del Duomo. Of all the beautiful names this city is called, especially Firenze as we call it with our Italian friends, there are also those who lovingly use its most beautiful form, Fiorenza, for it is still considered the flower of all Italian graces. As regards this write up, I would rather refer to it in its simplest form: Florence.

Only few meters ahead, beyond the curve of the street, stood the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria della Fiore (Il Duomo) crowned with Filippo Brunelleschi’s soaring octagonal dome resting on a drum. It had rained during the early hours when we returned to our rented apartment in Via degli Alfani following the midnight Mass at this cathedral – something we had missed during the last couple of years due to unavoidable reasons. Indeed, as the Florentines say, an Easter Mass at Santa Maria della Fiore (Our Lady of The Flowers) is something not to be missed.

Nestled in the Apennines, in the center of the fertile region of Tuscany rests the noble city of le bella Firenze in a blaze of beauty. Lauded as the jewel of the Italian Renaissance, Florence, situated in a plain surrounded by hills and mountains, is adorned with piazzas, monuments, galleries, frescoes, priceless collection of art and literature, and enogastronomic tradition of Tuscany pioneered by the Etruscans.

Climb up to the northern hilltop retreat of Fiesole or to the Boboli Gardens (Giardini di Boboli) or Piazzale Michelangelo, one’s eyes can feast on the splendor of Florence – its monuments of history stretching before us with an airiness of ease and rightness: a jumble of red-tiled roofs and domes, Il Duomo and its magnificent Dome, the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, the Basilica di Santa Croce, the square tower of Bargello, Palazzo Vecchio with its belfry,…… Pure architecture! And down there you can see River Arno, streaming peacefully between high embankments segmented by the bridges, of which, Ponte Vecchio, built by Giotto’s pupil Taddeo Gaddi in 1345, stands out conspicuously with its cluttered squares of goldsmiths’ shops.

When the tourist season starts, Florence, a prime holiday destination, becomes one big happy family. Despite their loss of privacy and quietness, the locals know, with a fairly good grace, that a tourist cannot help being a tourist – they have to see things, understand things, take photographs, enjoy the culture, the cuisine…..

Memories could get jammed with impressions from constant travel to various places – but Florence, like Rome, and Madrid, is unique for us. It has an energy peculiar to it. Each year we schedule to be in Florence for a certain period of time, to live amidst the Florentines, to enjoy the pleasures of art, the nature, the tranquility, and the marvelous food which reflects all the warmth, vitality and charm of Italy. We did the sights, walked everywhere – without the help of a cursory glance on the city map – and liked the idea that we are walking the very same ground as the various Medici, Giotto, Verrocchio, Donatello, da Vinci, Botticelli, Machiavelli, Galileo, …….. the one and only Michelangelo Buonarroti.

 

The beautiful Square where Il Duomo is situated, is divided into Piazza del Duomo (named after the cathedral) and Piazza San Giovanni (named after the Baptistery). Collectively called Piazza del Duomo, this area represents the religious center of Florence.  The Duomo’s construction had begun on September 8, 1296 based on a design by Arnolfo di Cambio. That day marked the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Andrea del Verrocchio completed the lantern in 1468 by topping it’s summit with “Palla del Verrocchio,” his modified design keeping line with the original plan of Brunelleschi – a man of extraordinary genius who made the octagonal Cupola (Il Cupolone) possible for the Florentines. Covered with pale grey, green and rose marble, Il Duomo is an imposing edifice, flanked by the tall Campanile with multi-coloured marbles which was designed by Giotto and completed by Taddeo Gaddi. It stands on the spot where the Church of Santa Reparata once stood about 1,7m below the present ground level.

As we walked across the harsh stones past Astor Café, we could hear the roar of the excited crowd assembled before the cathedral and near the Baptistery of San Giovanni (Battistero di San Giovanni), one of the oldest buildings in the city (which Dante once calledMy handsome San Giovanni”). Dedicated to the patron saint of Florence, the Baptistery is championed as a Roman temple to honour Mars in order to establish a line of continuity between Rome and Florence. How truly Dante wrote in Il Convivio: “Rome’s most beautiful and celebrated daughter, Florence.”

The colourful crowd gathered here from four quarters of the world was impatiently waiting for the procession to arrive and kick start the events leading to the “Scoppio del carro” (The Explosion of the Cart). As part of this event, a firework laden cart is brought before the cathedral in a colourful procession and it’s fireworks are set off following a religious ceremony. Of the many times we were in Florence, we had always missed this Florentine tradition held on every Easter Sunday.

The tradition of the Scoppio del Carro goes back to the period of the First Crusade (1096-1099) when its armies laid the long siege on the city of Jerusalem. These armies had initially encamped before the secured walls of the Holy City on June 7, 1099. As regards the heavily fortified walls, it was then found that only the south-west where the wall cuts across Mount Sion and along the length of the northern wall offered favourable positions to mount an attack against the defense of the Fatimid governor, Iftikhar ad-Dawla. Owing to the fierce defense put up by Iftikhar, the initial attempt resulted in failure.

The crusaders had to undertake massive preparations and gather necessary resources, built great wooden siege towers, before they were ready to launch the main attack on the night of July 13-14. All the same, it would be by midday of July 15, 1099 (Friday 22 sha’ban 492) when the wooden siege tower of the army, led by Frankish knight Godfrey of Bouillon (c. 1060-1100), Duke of Lower Lorraine and his brother Eustace, Count of Boulogne, was ideally positioned and the soldiers were able to climb onto the north wall (close to the present Gate of Flowers, Sha’ar Haprahim) and subsequently into the city, thus establishing the legend of Godfrey. Considered remarkably valiant in nature, Godfrey is acclaimed as one of the nine  exemplary heroes and role-models in the poem of the Middle Ages, Les neuf preux or The Nine Worthies (the others being Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Joshua, King David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne)

According to the Florentine tradition, soldier Pazzino of the Pazzi family (a prestigious family of influential Florentine bankers), was said to be the first among the soldiers to scale the walls of Jerusalem and raise the flag on July 15, 1099. For his bravery, Godfrey awarded Pazzino with three pieces of flint from the Tomb of Jesus Christ at the Holy Sepulchre.

Those three shards of flint were brought to Florence on July 16, 1101 by Pazzino himself. It was an occasion for great celebrations. When the Florentines started to venerate the flints, it affirmed great symbolic value to the city. The grateful public elevated Pazzino to an honoured place in the history of Florence. The flints were kept in safe custody by the Pazzi family in their Palazzo dei Pazzi and used by them to light the sacred fire (fuoco novella) during the advent of Easter. The sacred stones were handed over to the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Porta (Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra a Porta later renamed as Chiesa di San Biagio) in 1785 but during May of the same year, it was shifted to the Church of Holy Apostles (Chiesa di Santi Apostoli) where it is presently kept at the bottom of the left nave in a tabernacle designed by Giovanni della Robbia.

The tradition associated with these three flints might have originated from a ceremony held by the Crusaders on the day of Holy Saturday at the Church of Resurrection (Chiesa della Resurrezione), following the liberation of Jerusalem, when they lit the holy fire as a symbol of purification.

In view of that, “holy fire” is lit from the sparks of these flints in Florence during Easter and these small torches (fecellina) were carried through the city of Florence by young men in procession and brought to the front of the Duomo. The event’s organisation and cost remained the responsibility of the Pazzi family until they fell into disgrace for hatching up conspiracy (1478-79) against the Medici in which Cosimo de’ Medici’s grandson, Lorenzo de’ Medici was wounded, but escaped into the safety of the Sacristy while his younger brother Giuliano de Medici was killed. This failed conspiracy by the Pazzi family was connived when Florence was not only at the height of its Renaissance glories but also a seed-bed for conspirators and of fierce feuding.

Scoppio del Carro, once known as “Carro de Pazzi,” was first recorded by Florentine banker/chronicler Giovanni Villani (died 1348) in the New Chronicles (Nuova Cronica) about the history of Florence. Through the course of years, the modus operandi of Scoppio del Carro had changed and it was during the reign of Pope Leon X (1513-1521), that an artificial dove with an olive branch in his beak became part of it to symbolize peace and understanding as a preamble to the procession which culminated in the burning of the cart. In previous times, Scoppio del Carro used to be held during the Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. That was changed to noon on Easter Sunday for the benefit of the tourists.

I could see many more people coming in droves to join the crowd already in the Piazza. After we had settled in the best vantage point available amongst the mass of crowd, it wasn’t long before the colourful procession lined up with the members of Bandierai degli Uffizi (official and historical flagwavers of Florence) waving bright coloured flags, musicians dressed in medieval costume and feathered caps, Entered the Piazza del Duomo from Via Roma. Behind them came civic authorities and descendants of distinguished families led by the Banner of the City of Florence.

To us, this procession looked somewhat similar to the traditional parade held as part of the annual celebration of La Festa di San Giovanni on June 24. Having started from Piazzale del Prato, the procession had moved through various pre-assigned points, meeting up with additional reinforcements on the way. A Finnish tourist with a glittering row of jewelry on his left ear told me that he had earlier witnessed a display of flag-bearers and musicians at Piazza della Repubblica also.

 

In a little while, Florentines dressed in red and white striped medieval costumes as soldiers lined up before the cathedral, with a formation of the musicians in red and white costumes to their right side. Another formation of musicians who were positioned near the Campanile cut a dash in yellow and blue costumes. The Piazza resonated with the sound of the drums and shouts of men and women in the procession in unison with the delightful crowd.

Once the members of Bandierai degli Uffizi converged on the area between the façade of the cathedral and the Baptistery, sporting a world of energy, they performed a display of “flag waving and throwing” to the rhythm of drums – rather reminiscent of a similar event we had seen at the Palio games held in Siena.


 

Following this, the 30-foot tall wooden chariot affectionately called il Brindellone (the present cart with wagging pennants was built by the Pazzi family in 1765) by the Florentines was hauled by four decorated oxen with gold-painted horns and hooves was positioned right before the main door of the cathedral.

 

The oxen were soon taken away and a wire was connected to il Brindellone which extended to the high altar inside the cathedral where a mechanical dove (Columbina) symbolizing the Holy Spirit is fitted on the wire by a team of pyrotechnicians. Before long, il Brindellone, already fitted with firing units, was ready for the final event. The crowd had grown still and silent when the distribution of the holy fire struck from the Jerusalem flints took place before the cathedral.

Once this ceremony is done, the clergy moved into the cathedral for the main ceremony. When the Gloria in Excelsis Deo was sung, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Florence lit a trigger that lit the fuse of the mechanical dove.

 

Promptly, Il Columbina rushed from the altar through the wire, went hissing past the great doors of the cathedral and hit il Brindellone, igniting the fuse of the explosive pyrotechnic device set inside it. Having accomplished this prearranged mission, the dove returned back to where it originated from. The seven bells of Giotto’s freestanding Campanile persistently rang forth happily, presenting us with their open mouths, swinging backwards and forwards, sounding how happy they were on this celebrated occasion. The successful return of the dove back to the altar without a hitch theoretically assured a boom-time harvest and prosperity for the city of Florence. It was strongly suggested that the dove failed in its mission in 1966 and Florence suffered from a flood on November 4 of that year.

Boom, boom! The Piazza reverberated with the deafening sound of the bursting fireworks and explosions. The next minutes were a bit of a blur. Il Brindellone disappeared from my view in a cloud of smoke and technicolour sparks, and almost immediately, the smell of gunpowder filled the air. Sometime ago, the heavens had opened and it had started to rain. Save for the protection from rain offered by few umbrellas which instantly went up, no one moved away from that packed crowd although some of those on the back pavement took refuge inside Café Monarico facing the Piazza.

The fire-show from the cart lasted for about twenty minutes, jetting fireworks into the sky in rapid succession, higher than the 84.7m high Campanile, creating a continuous flicker of radiating gold stars and raining down streams of sparks onto the Piazza, symbolically distributing the holy fire on the entire city of Florence. When the explosions finally died out and the silvery whiteness and smoke cleared, the rain had ceased. The grey sky had taken on a more cheerful countenance, as though the sun might step forward at any moment.

Yet another Scoppio del Carro has been concluded perfectly, bringing a cheerful finish to the year’s Lent. The crowd separated, scattered, having enjoyed the high moments of the sights and sound of the procession and the precision fireworks.

Food is an integral part of the celebrations. We could see lunch crowds starting to file into restaurants. By now we were footsore, and hungry. It is time to meet up with our reservation for the Easter Sunday lunch at Trattoria 4Leoni (The Four Lions) at Piazza della Passera – renowned for tasty, well-prepared food and excellent service. This is one of the restaurants we patronized with a certain pleasure. The last time we had been there, we had Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the Florentine specialty from Tuscan Chianina cattle and specially cut in a masterful way only Tuscan butchers seem to have perfected.

To celebrate Pasquetta, we had lamb, the symbol of Easter, for main course: Cosciotto d’agnello alle erbe aromatiche (Roast leg of lamb with aromatic herbs). It tasted delicious – the herbs tend to mellow and blend with the stronger taste of the lamb, and went well with a bottle of Terre di Franciacorta Rosso, the dry deep ruby red. Not a bad choice. Later that evening, we had a quite dinner and tipple few glasses at Il Porcospino, our usual trattoria, which Carina called Jo’s Place, near Cappelle Medice attached to Basilica di San Lorenzo.

The following day, we caught the train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station and whistled our way to Roma Termini, pleased that our Easter meal was a perfect ending to yet another delightful stay in the unique and ancient city of Florence. Till next time. Ciao, Jo.


(This article is dedicated to the memory of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Magnifico, who passed away in Florence on April 08, 1492)

(Photos: © JS-Carina-Bianca-Andrea/Manningtree Archive)

Viva Italia – 2: Santuario dell’ Arcella – Illustrious and Sublime

The Chinese have a saying: “Twenty cups of green tea a day saves from a bad day”. When that thought crossed my mind, I was sitting at a Trattoria in Padova, Italy with a cup of steaming green tea raised to my lips. No, I don’t care a great deal for green tea, but that was what I was having on that April day. The girl behind the bar-counter, with disarming warmth and beautiful smile was eyeing our table, silently urging us to finish our drinks in time for the taxi she had graciously booked for us and is expected to arrive at any moment. Italian drivers can get a bit impatient, at times. Having settled the check and ready to leave, we kept a cool face – after all, it is standard operating procedure among human beings to act as if everything is all right – all of the time.

Minutes later, we were driving past Padova railway station north-east bound towards Arcella on the other side. Having got down before the flower shop in front of the Il Santuario Antoniano dell”Arcella, we picked up a bunch of cream-tulips for our visit to the Santuario where Sant’ Antonio of Padova had died. I have a particular fondness for cream-coloured tulips which our jolly good flower-mart at Kensington High Street in London supplied us every time we happen to be there.

 

Quite oddly, we would have to settle for deep yellow-tulips when we reached Firenze the following week since the cream-coloured tulips were just not available, perhaps due to the Easter season.

The sight of the Santuario built with exposed bricks and stone decorations in harmony with the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the Veneto region has always sent my heart sailing. It is one of the places I loved to visit in Padova – so quiet, so cool, so inviting…, a place built up with the deepest patronage of the people of Padova. Undeniably, it is the devotion of simple people and patronage of the wealthy that has built most of the distinguished Christian shrines.

 

The Santuario, with its dignified interior featuring restrained neo-gothic style that resonate Italian and Franciscan influence, is situated on the site which was originally a Franciscan Monastery for the Poor Clares (Poor Ladies) founded by San Francesco d’Assisi in 1220 when he landed at Venice by the Spring or Summer and took a brief break at Padova on his return from Acre and the Holy Land. Some Franciscan chronicles push the year of founding the Santuario further ahead between 1225/1226 and also claim that it was established by Agnes of Assisi, St. Clare’s blood sister. Originally called Santa Maria de Cella (or de Arcella) which consisted of two separate convents: the monastery of Poor Clares; and a small friary of the “Friars Minor”, it will become famous as a place of worship for having witnessed the death of two saints: Sant’ Antonio (June 13, 1231) and Blessed Elena Enselmini (November 4, 1231/1242).

The present church built by Eugenio Maestri in 1895 on the site of the previous structures and enlarged by Nino Gallimberti in 1930 is the final version that derived from various reconstruction, restoration and modification through the course of its history. A later addition, the tall bell tower designed by Agostino Miozzo and inaugurated in 1922, holds the 6m tall statue of Sant’ Antonio (by Veronese sculptor Silvio Righetti) on its apex.

  

The Santuario escaped from fire during the winter of 1442-43 when its archive was totally destroyed obliterating valuable records. It was converted to a hospital when the Plague (Black Death) hit Padova in the fourteenth century and during 1509, it housed the headquarters of Emperor Maximilian I of Hapsburg (1459 – 1519) when he besieged Padova. While 90 percent of the Arcella area was destroyed by bombs during World War II, the present church escaped from destruction, together with the original cell in which Antonio died. Like Portiuncula (Porziuncola) within the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, the cell, called La Cella del Transito(the Cell of Transition), was incorporated to the Santuario during 1670-75 and now forms part of the center altar. Over the centuries, its spiritual appeal has grown and numerous Paduan families choose the Santuario for their place of burial.

After the Lent of 1231, Antonio who was staying at Camposampiero fell grievously sick, afflicted with dropsy. He opted to return back to the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini and the convent founded by him in Padova in 1227 or 1229 since according to his will, he desired to be buried there. When the ox-cart carrying Antonio drew closer to Arcella on its way to Padova, his physical condition had worsened and the friars were constrained to take him to a small cell in the friary of the Franciscans attached to the convent of the Poor Clares just outside the city walls. It was in this cell that Antonio had his Sacrament of Reconciliation/Extreme Unctionand sang his favourite hymn glorifying the Virgin Mary (O Gloriosa Domina) which was followed by recital of the seven penitential Psalms before the holy man breathed his last at the sunset of June 13, 1231.

 

The life-size reclining statue inside la cappella del Transito nel santuario dell’Arcella depicts Sant’ Antonio at his death. This statue was sculptured in 1808 by Rinaldo de Rinaldi, one of A. Canova’s pupils and does not represent a truthful resemblance to the saint’s physical appearance sketched out from his skeleton in 1981 by the scientists from the fields of anthropology, anatomy, reconstruction of tissue and plastic moulding. As a reminder of the events of the life of Sant’ Antonio and of his final arrival from Camposanpiero, a historical reenactment of his death is held here in period costumes by the evening of June 12 every year.

Inside the Santuario to the left side lies the uncorrupted body of Blessed Elena (Helena) Enselmini (Elsimi), displayed in a glass and silver reliquary. Born in 1208 (1207?) to the noble family of Enselmini in Padova, she was brought up with the supreme religious principles and untainted ideals of virtue. Named after Flavia Julia Helena, the innkeeper’s daughter who became the mother of Emperor Constantine whom the Christians venerate as Empress St. Helen, at her very young age itself, touched by the examples of absolute poverty and zealous acts of charity of San Francesco, Elena, like St. Clare, wanted to follow the way San Francesco had chosen to imitate Jesus, his source of spiritual inspiration. Having opted to live in the harsh rules of Poor Clares which offered her a life of silence, prayer, fasting, extreme poverty and manual labour, she received the habit of a Poor Clare sister, according to a fresco, from San Francesco himself.

While living in holy obedience at the monastery dell’Arcella, then reputed to be the fourth foundation of the “Order of Poor Clares” in addition to Assisi, Firenze and Faenza, Elena was also fortunate to have met Sant’ Antonio with whom she developed a holy friendship.

Following the death of San Francesco on October 3, 1226, Antonio had returned to Italy in 1227 and was elected ministro provinciale of the Franciscan Order for the Province of Emilia-Romagna, a position he held from 1227 to 1230. Having taken up his last permanent residence at the convent of Santa Maria Mater Domini in Padova in 1228, his periodical visits to Santuario dell”Arcella, provided the great theologian with opportunities to pass on his fruits of experience to Elena, bestowing her with theological education and moral perfection. At the age of eighteen, Elena had turned lame, blind, dumb and later bedridden until her death on November 4, 1231.

The date of “November 4, 1231” provided by me here is based on a placard displayed in front of the chapel of the Blessed Elena inside the Santuario which is founded on a eulogy on parchment discovered in her coffin. Incidentally, there exists a mix-up in the date of expiry of Elena Enselmini of Arcella since some writings stipulate it as November 4, 1242. Whatever authentic documents that would have confirmed the actual date were amongst the records lost during the fire in the winter of 1442-43.

According to The Franciscan Book of Saints, by Marion Alphonse Habig (Publisher: Franciscan Herald Press (1959), Elena is remembered for her patience with the sick and the treatment of many ailments and credited with visions of purgatory. During her lifetime, the sisters had recorded many of her revelations, and after her death, numerous miracles began to occur on behalf of those who had sought her intercession. As per the initiative of San Gregorio Barbarigo, the then Bishop of Padova, she was beatified by Pope Innocent XII on October 29, 1695.

Reminiscent of her own earthly life which had been fraught with difficulties, the mortal remains of Blessed Elena went through many re-interments. During the siege of Padova in 1509 when the Poor Clares moved to Borgo Ognissanti in Firenze (painter Sandro Botticelli (aka. Alessandro Filipepi) would be buried there in 1510 near his beloved Simonetta Vespucci, popularly believed to be the model for the personification of sexual beauty in “The Birth of Venus”) they took the urn containing the sacred body of Elena with them and later to other sister-convents until in 1810, when the convent was closed due to Napoleonic suppressions, the relic was translated to the Basilica di Sant’ Antonio. She was finally interned in the Santuario dell”Arcella on May 5, 1957. In 2007, the clarissa Francescana’s 50th Anniversary of burial was commemorated. The Santuario once dedicated to Virign Mary, is finally re-dedicated to Beata Elena Enselmini and the road outside it is also named after her.

According to contemporary sources, Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), the great physician from Carpi in the province of Modena in Italy (the founder of occupational medicine and the first professor of practical medicine of the University of Padova), is said to be buried there. Recognised as a doctor in attendance to the nuns of the Santuario, he is the author of “De Morbis Artificum Diatriba” (Diseases of Workers). Ramazzini’s burial in the Santuario is disputed from 1914 onwards since the skeleton believed to be of Ramazzini (81 at the time of his death) in the unmarked tomb was identified to be of a 60-year old abbot of the convent. It is presumed that the actual remains of Ramazzini were lost when the tomb was opened in 1852 and bones removed to facilitate reinforcement and restoration of the Santuario and the oratory. While it is claimed that the remains were returned to the tomb and was properly sealed before the Santuario was consecrated in 1852 and dedicated to San Francesco di Sales, a further study in 2002 revealed that one of the remains of the four individuals found in the tomb, according to carbon dating, is that of Ramazzini.

 

Basilica di Sant’ Antonio                    Basilica di Santa Giustina

Whereas Basilica di Sant’ Antonio is the primary pilgrimage destination in Padova, Basilica di Santa Giustina and Santuario dell”Arcella also form part of a trivium. Saints and mystics were not born saints. They have attained a life of perfection through prayer, meditation and benevolence.

Life improves if you look on the bright side. As you step into these sacred places with a calm self and clear conscience, chances are that your instincts could feel the saints take over the guidance, and if you care to listen closer, you could hear them whisper, imparting their thoughts and inspiration to you, to renew your spirit and uplift the general outlook – something your heart and soul will never regret.

 

Novitiate’s Cloister of the convent attached to Basilica di Sant’ Antonio

As the taxi took us back to Hotel Casa del Pellegrino near Basilica di Sant’ Antonio, the driver expressed his happiness to us for having visited the Santuario which he often frequented, definitely on his birthday, every year. Like his moving taxi, belief follows a path of least resistance! Ciao, Jo

 

(Photos: © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive.)

Viva Italia – 1: Padova – An Oasis of Calm

Padova – An Oasis of Calm

The last time we were in Paris was in March 2012. Our sojourn was the briefest of our stays there – but quite enjoyable at the Radisson Blu Hotel which is ideally positioned closer to Charles de Gaulle Airport (just seven minutes drive), from where we could conveniently catch the EasyJet flight to Venice. La Cockpit, the ground floor restaurant in Blu was the right venue for us to enjoy a delectable dinner laced with French Red in the cozy ambiance of vintage 1900 style décor. It felt good for us to get away from home for sometime as it is always good to get back home, as well.

View from Radisson Blu CDG airport Paris. The hotel offers free shuttles to the CDG airport terminals.

My devotion to Italy had not matured gradually nor as part of a general interest in Europe as a whole. Italy has always been special to me for many reasons. People from everywhere are drawn to its famous charms, the sense of space and air! Like Spain, it’s a country of long and splendid history. Both have excelled in the beautiful arts, in literature which lasts. Who couldn’t visualize the Piazza San Marco of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Collosseum, Tuscan wine….. or the famous people like San Francesco d’Assisi, San Antonio de Padua, Santa Caterina da Siena, the Borgias, the Medicis, Dante, Savonarola, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Gali..…… they are all special people like Velàzquez, El Greco, Goya, … and I could go on typing forever. It’s a haven for tourists – serious and the “just looking” ones – which brings to my mind a serious traveler who found joy in tallying columns of the Roman Forum with the number stated in a guide book.

From Venezia Aeroporto Marco Polo Tessera, the ideal way to go to our initial destination, Padova (maybe less romantic than relaxing in a taxi) is the SITA bus available right outside the main exit – between the third/fourth pillars to the right with a blue sign. Yes, you can bring your luggage cart up till the bus. The seats are comfortable and there is ample space in the lower locker-holds to tuck away a couple of bags per person. The tickets (Euro:16/- for two) are available in the airport arrivals lounge, less expensive than on board the bus.

On that spring day, it took us about an hour to reach Padova through the bright Veneto region, considering that this blue coloured diesel-powered bus made a brief stop at Piazzale Roma in Venice before it sped through the Causeway up the Route via Mestre to Padova.

Oh, to touch Venice – all those footpaths with no motor traffic, the Canale Grande, the gondolas, Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar…. – it saddens me to think that the place is sinking. Anyhow, more on Venice later….

The premises of the bus stand at Padova is devoid of taxi stand, but, simple enough, they are easily available 5 minutes ahead at the taxi rank at Piazzale della Stazione before the railway station. It felt good to be back in Padova. For us, the way into the heart of Italy is, preferably, more often than not through Padova.

Pic left: The watercourse near Via Beato Luca Belludi leading to Basilica San Antonio. This road is named after Blessed Luca Belludi who was the companion and successor of San Antonio; Pic right: Display of coloured powders in a shop at Via Beato Luca Belludi.

A great part to hold a traveller’s joy is the uniqueness and variety. What is this spell of Padova? Being one of the most important art cities in Italy with an artistic and cultural heritage, Padova has many charms for the visitors. Slide shots flipped over in my mind:

Interior of The Cappella degli Scrovegni all’Arena – Giotto’s canvas.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapal), is an annex of the Musei Civici Eremitani, and closer to the railway station. It is an ideal place to talk art and admire the famous figurative art featuring the life of Christ, the Last Judgment and the life of the Virgin Mary, by the Florentine painter, sculptor and architect Giotto di Bondone better known simply as Giotto (1266-1337).

Palazzo della Ragione

Besides the many attractions of the Palazzo della Ragione (the Seat of Justice), the “Railing Stone” and the “Wooden Horse” built as a replica of Gattamelata’s horse for a tournament that was held in Piazza dei Signori in 1466, are not to be missed. The bronze equestrian monument to the Commander of the Venetian Republic Gattamelata (known as Erasmo da Narni – died in Venice in 1443) by Donatello (1386-1466) is located in the courtyard of the Piazza del Santo. The tomb of Gattamelata is inside the Basilica de San Antonio which also house Donatello’s reliefs and statues for the high altar. I prefer to write more about the Basilica of the Saint,where my favourite saint is laid to rest, at a later date. A direct live view of the entrance to the Basilica can be seen from http://www.santantonio.info/

Pic left: The Basilica di Santa Giustina (BSG); Pic right: BSG: The unfinished façade.

The imposing Basilica di Santa Giustina, the most ancient Christian place of worship in the city, built in honour of Giustina who was killed probably in 304 A.D, is situated facing the huge elliptical square Prato della Valle, (Prà) the customary site for entertainments and fairs. Constructed in the form of a Latin cross with Byzantine domes similar to the Basilica de San Antonio, it houses the tombs/relics of St. Urius, the Benedictine Abbess St. Felicity, St. Mathew the Apostle, part of the body of St. Luke the Evangelist, besides many frescoes and sculptors by Luca Giordano, G.B Maganza, Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi, Paolo Veronese (Martyrdom of Santa Giustina) and his brother Benedetto Caliari, etc.

Pic left: Interior of BSG: The central nave with the wooden Crucifix from the first half of the 15th century; Pic right: Interior of BSG: The sarcophagus containing the remains of St. Luke the Evangelist.

From the ancient University where Galileo Galilei taught, to the famous Café Pedrocchi, to Orto Botanico, to the colourful frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio in the Romanesque edifice, Oratorio di San Giorgio, to Palazzo del Capitano with its astronomical clock made in 1344, Padova is a treasure trove of attractions worth discovering.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 2: Interior of BSG: The Ark of St. Matthias in the right arm of the cross (by Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi (1562)); Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 4: Interior of BSG: The Corridor and Well of the Martyrs (1566). Statues of saints made of terracotta adorn the four surrounding pillars.

This time round we stayed at Hotel Casa del Pellegrino (at Via Melchiorre Cesarotti) which is a stone’s throw away from and facing the Basilica de San Antonio. Simple and comfortable, the rooms are spacious, fitted with necessary amenities and they have separate restaurants for breakfast and lunch/dinner. We have had many a happy moments in that room “with the view” and we would go to sleep very late at night, but being an early riser, I would get up in time for breakfast at the hotel’s separate wing, served by very friendly staff. It was nice to wake up to the chimes of the church bells. Reminded me of my young days in Ernakulam.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The Well of the Martyrs; Pic 2:Interior of BSG: Some worshippers; Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: Some worshippers from Poland; Pic 4: Interior of BSG

We had always stuck to our golden rule to visit places strictly according to the freedom of our own itinerary and timing – and never opted for the discomforts of set timing, set food, set places, service (sometimes from indifferent employees) of some “follow-the-umbrella” tour packages – the “I would rather have spent half hour in Milan than never have been in Milan” kind of tour packages. It lifts our spirit in working our own hours, to go around at our own pace, have a good meal at our selection, choice of a comfortable room and bed, and enjoy service from people with friendly attitude – aspects which are all important to us. One example is Hotel Casa del Pellegrino where we can always look forward to that good, old, friendly hospitality.

Pic left: View of Basilica San Antonio from Hotel Casa del Pellegrino; Pic right: A holy procession during Easter 2012 at Prato della Valle.

Time does fly by, doesn’t it? The five days we were there to savour again the spirit and mood of Padova, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with our friends, including the dear Franciscan abbots of the Basilica de San Antonio and also to make more friends. Before we left India, I was talking to a friend in England whose passion is music. He knew the entire histories of many individual songs (psychedelic rock) – and many other details such as who wrote it, who and what influenced that song, the year it was recorded, etc. His knowledge in that was exemplary. But one suggestion from him turned out to set us scurrying around seeking food in Padova. No, my friend didn’t pull a fast one on me! He had honestly recommended that, to sweeten the day of arrival in Padova, we eat the initial night’s dinner at a restaurant closer to the Basilica which offered a true symphony of flavours and dishes. We dearly love the delightful cuisine and red wine of Italy. No day is so good that it can’t be made more good with a wonderful night out. But the shape of things to come seldom revealed its presence among us. True to my friend’s word, walking through the entrance a bit late into the night, we found the restaurant fairly full of happy customers around richly laden tables, but we hastily left after a couple of drinks when we knew of the day’s special, a Veneto specialty.  Asino! In Italian, I couldn’t swing it until a waiter named it in plain English “Donkey”. We have sampled Cavallo (horse) in Paris, but couldn’t be connoisseurs of asino on that day! Anyhow, the ass looked great on plate.

My memory wanders back to a night out at Trattoria da Renzo situated up the hills in Albignasego at the gates of Padova where our lovely friends Francesco and Marzia treated us with a delicious dinner. About one km from Prato della Valle it offers great food, best Italian wine amidst décor keyed to the region, fantastic ambience and hospitality (closed on Sundays). Rather a romantic place with a magnificent night-time view of Padova down in the valley below. And don’t forget to have the king of spring dishes, Padovan asparagus, if you are there during spring time.

Besides the opportunity to meet up with the wonderful array of friends in Padova, it also allows us at some point, a quick dash to Venice, for the umpteenth time. (One way fare from Padova to Venice Santa Lucia Railway Station by train is Euro:7/- per person). Likewise, many who stop over at Venice take a detour to cover Padova as well.

The Basilica de San Antonio.

Some places connect with you distinctly. It draws you there and holds you. Most importantly, a visit to Padova is a special occasion for us to visit the tomb of our beloved San Antonio. Every single grace comes to us there and we always leave little bits of us at his tomb – like rags and shreds of our life. The gift of faith.

Pic left: Interior of the Basilica de San Antonio: The tomb of the Saint; Pic right:Cloister of the Chapter (Magnolia) of the Monastery attached to the BSA.

It’s time to bid Arrivederci. Reluctantly, we tear ourselves from Padova to catch our train for the one-half-hour journey to the historical city of Firenze (Euro:74/- one way for two), beckoning us at the other end of the journey. Shortly on arrival at Firenze (Florence), we have got a lot to do before the day is over – especially, a tryst to keep –with none other than Cosimo …, Lorenzo de……. the Medicis! Now that’s another story, for another time. Ciao… Jo

 

 

Above Pics in order of appearance: Interior of the Basilica di Santa Giustina: One of the two aisles on both sides of the central nave;  Brass fresco/door-handle on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;   Easter 2012

(Photos & Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive.)