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S. Margherita Festival Cortona

21 May

This weekend, the people of Cortona celebrated the feast of S. Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint, and kicked off the two weeks of the Medieval Giostra dell’Archidado.

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Events began Friday night with the Colata dei ceri, or the casting of the candles, a religious practice that dates back to 1325. At the time, wax was collected and used by churches for candle making and also sold as a source of income.

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Locals dressed in traditional costumes of the time and processed into Piazza Repubblica accompanied by drummers and flag bearers.

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S. Margherita was eventually led into the piazza

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and a few events from her life were reenacted.

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If you look closely in the pink part of the photo, you will see a headsman or executioner. After Margherita was willing to sacrifice her life in place a convicted criminal, her followers cried out, “She is a saint!” and the criminal’s life was spared.

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Saturday was the Offerta dei ceri or the offering of the candles. Large candles were carried into the piazza and blessed by the bishop.

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Each quartiere or neighborhood of Cortona was represented in a procession that portrayed nobility, religious and workers of the time.

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Following the blessings, the flag bearers delighted the crowds with their skills.

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Then the candles were taken to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.

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On Sunday morning, several masses were held at the Basilica. We walked up Via Santa Croce…

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where beautiful mosaics of the stations of the cross are built into the wall.

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S. Margherita died in 1297 in a room behind the old church where she had lived the last years of her life. Over the years, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Margherita was rebuilt in her honor.

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Her body is preserved in a silver casket on the altar. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.

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On my way out of the Basilica, I turned once again to admire its beauty, said one more quick prayer, and as I headed toward the door, a gust of wind blew it open. Really.

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Such a wonderful weekend and such an interesting way to understand and celebrate this important part of Cortona’s history.

Ciao,
Judy

Easter in Cortona

15 Apr

In cities and towns all over Italy, religious processions are held during Easter week. Many churches have large statues and crosses that are carried on the shoulders of locals in Holy Week processions through city streets.

Last night, Good Friday, Cortona held its annual Procession of the Stations of the Cross. Signs in English were all over town to remind visitors that this is a solemn event.

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The procession began at 9 PM at the Church of Spirito Santo, a 17th-century church built just outside the medieval walls of Cortona. For those of you familiar with Cortona, picture the church beyond the bottom of steep Via Guelfa and out the wall’s entrance. Noting this is important because the route the procession takes is pretty amazing…either steeply uphill or down, and very rarely flat. (*See below for more of route.)

We waited for the procession at the Church of Saint Francis with others who had lined the steps.

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The Stations of the Cross were being read over a loud-speaker as the procession moved through parts of town.

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Local children were as involved as their parents.

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A group of strong women carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.

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After reaching its highest point, the procession came down Via S. Margherita toward Via Nazionale.

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The final destination was Piazza Republicca, where the statues were placed on platforms.

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At about 10:30 PM, religious dignitaries gathered at the top of the Municipio and a local bishop led all in prayer before the choir sang.

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A year ago, Len and I were in Trapani, Sicily, for their incredible Misteri di Trapani, a 24 hour procession. It was large and dramatic, with musicians and choirs accompanying each heavy statue carried on the shoulders of dozens of men. But Trapani is flat, and Cortona is anything but. So, while Cortona’s procession was smaller, with less music and drama, it was nonetheless incredible to see the procession maneuver through the ancient town. Whether elaborate or small, dramatic or simple, it is each town’s commitment to carrying out tradition that matters.

Today, Saturday, Cortona is bustling with people, here to participate in the Easter weekend. I’m told there is a midnight mass tonight at the Duomo, and masses at various times and churches tomorrow.

The smells of special Easter breads and pastries fill the spring air, and tomorrow most Italians will gather around large lunches with their families and friends to celebrate Easter, as will we.

In Italy, the Monday after Easter is also a holiday called Pasquetta. Though not a religious holiday, Pasquetta is another day for family and friends to gather and also spend some relaxing time outdoors. It was introduced by the government after World War II.

Wherever your plans may take you, a gathering big or small,
I wish you a very Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua to all!

Ciao,
Judy

*Note: for those wanting more on the route,  I believe it was up Via Guelfa, connecting to Via Ghini, up the very steep Via Maffei to San Francesco Church, on past the old hospital to Via S. Margherita, down through Piazza Garibaldi to Via Nazionale and finally ending in Piazza Republicca.

 

Medieval Jousters on Horses in Cortona

22 Oct

For days, we had heard that the horses were coming, yet no one I spoke with knew why. Today, as with many days in Cortona, we were surprised and delighted with a colorful Medieval spectacle.

As overheard in the piazza, the nearby city of Arezzo has been highly victorious in jousting competitions this year. They came to Cortona today, dressed in their finest and with their victors high on horseback, to give thanks to their patron saint, Margherita. One of the participants told me this was a festival of adoration to their patron saint in appreciation for their success this year.

From our house, I heard the drummers and arrived just in time to see them enter the piazza from Via Roma.

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A few minutes later, the horses and jousters appeared in full matching Medieval regalia.

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Once the horses took their places,

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the flag wavers entered and all watched as they performed.

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In Italy, flag waving and throwing is a skill learned by the young and perfected over many years. It is an important part of many of the Medieval festivals and ceremonies, and one that requires years of practice.

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When the performance was finished, they joined the dignitaries on the grand steps of the Municipio for the speeches of gratitude.

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Following the ceremony in the piazza, the parade moved down Via Nazionale, the main and only flat street of Cortona.

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Their ultimate destination was the beautiful Santa Margherita Church at the top of Cortona –

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where the saint lies in glass at the foot of the altar.

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In towns and cities all over Italy, ancient customs live on in the hearts, minds and practices of the people who received them from their ancestors and pass them on to future generations. It’s easy to get caught up in the pageantry and imagine days gone by. No matter how often I see one of these, it’s always quite a spectacle to behold.

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Ciao,
Judy

Note: Click on any picture to enlarge.

 

 

My Here and There

29 Jun

Whether in Chicago or Cortona, Len and I try to walk everyday, or as we say in Italian, fare una passeggiata. During our walks, my senses take in beautiful sights, sounds (no ear buds for me), and the vast array of smells from fragrant flowers to pop-up food stands. The differences are striking, from the moment I step outside my door…

Via Santucci, Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Via Santucci, Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

And not surprising, as Chicago is a relatively new city…1833

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Chicago ©Blogginginitaly.com

While Cortona is an ancient town… 7th century BC.

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Cortona©Blogginginitaly.com

And while the differences are striking in many ways, it occurred to me that there are some interesting similarities.

Both cities have incredible parks where we take  our walks,

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Lincoln Park, Chicago ©Blogginginitaly.com

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with beautiful fountains,

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Cortona Parterre ©Blogginginitaly.com

incredible monuments and memorials,

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Cortona Parterre ©Blogginginitaly.com

seating for the weary,

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Cortona Parterre ©Blogginginitaly.com

And cats to entertain.

Lincoln Park Zoo©Blogginginitaly.com

Lincoln Park Zoo ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Cortona Parterre ©Blogginginitaly.com

While Chicago borders beautiful Lake Michigan,

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Lake Michigan ©Blogginginitaly.com

Cortona is just a short drive to Lago Trasimeno.

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Lago Trasimeno ©Blogginginitaly.com

And both provide relaxing settings for walking and biking.

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Lago Trasimeno ©Blogginginitaly.com

Now if stopping for ice cream/gelato is your thing, no problem…

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or shopping at a local market.

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Lincoln Park Market ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Cortona Market ©Blogginginitaly.com

Need fast delivery? Both locales have you covered.

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Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Looking for entertainment? Races on foot or on wheels?

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Chicago Marathon ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Or annual traditions?

Chicago Air and Water Show©Blogginginitaly.com

Chicago Air and Water Show ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Cortona Archidado ©Blogginginitaly.com

Feeling like spectating or donning a costume?

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Lake Michigan ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Cortona Archidado ©Blogginginitaly.com

And finally, when we need four wheels, …well, got that covered too!

Big City Safety

Big City Safety

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Small town parking ©Blogginginitaly.com

Ok, ok, don’t ask about such things as tomatoes, wine, cheese, pasta – no contest – but a very good reason to keep returning for una passeggiata in the land of my ancestors.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festa della Liberazione

25 Apr

In Italy, April 25th is a national holiday celebrating the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation in 1945.

Although it is quite chilly in Cortona, the band marched through the streets and placed a wreath  at the statue dedicated to those who fought and died for freedom.

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An important day to remember, especially for those of us who love being in Italy.

Ciao,
Judy

RAMPICHIANA 2016: Mountain Bike Race

4 Apr

In keeping with my theme that one never knows what to expect in Cortona, yesterday we were entertained by RAMPICHIANA, a large mountain bike race which was held in Cortona.

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Not sure of the number, but it seemed like a few thousand cyclists, in colorful gear and sponsorship, descended upon Cortona. As we got our morning coffee, many were walking, strategizing and warming up on Via Nazionale.

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There were three categories in this 12th edition of the race:

The LONG race was 45 km, or about 28 miles, through the streets and hills around Cortona, with 1600 meters (about one mile high) of altitude. The race started at 10 am

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with the elite cyclists getting ready to begin.

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They were followed by the second group

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and all headed down Via Nazionale toward Piazza Garibaldi, where they seemed to explode into a mass of colorful streamers.

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The MIDDLE race was 30 km with 1100 meters in altitude. The SHORT race, for non-competitive cyclists and minors, took 45 minutes with less altitude and challenging curves. It was as close as I have ever been to a cyclist race, and everyone was caught up in the buzz as they flew by.

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Good weather brought out the cheering spectators.

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As we walked around town, we caught a glimpse of riders at various parts of the race. For those who know the town well, imagine riding UP Via Guelfa on a mountain bike when we are challenged walking up Via Guelfa on foot! And this is after riding over 20+ miles in the hills.

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We met a lovely couple from Pennsylvania who asked, “Do these things just sort of happen here?” “Yes,” I said and smiled. “It’s part of what keeps us coming back.”

The race ended in Piazza Signorelli, with the final curve leading from Piazza Repubblica.

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We were right there when the first woman crossed the finish line.

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Complimenti!

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A good day for both riders and spectators…

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and a well-deserved rest for a job well done!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Misteri Trapani

27 Mar

The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani is a day-long passion procession featuring twenty platforms of lifelike wood, canvas and glue sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion of Christ. The Misteri are amongst the oldest continuously running religious events in Europe, having been performed every Good Friday since before the Easter of 1612, and running for at least 16 continuous hours. In Trapani, the procession runs 24 hours.

We were fortunate to view the procession from our balcony.

Every group in the procession is represented by a local tradesmen/craftsmen, e.g., fishermen, tailors, carpenters. Each carries a scene with statues and is usually accompanied by a marching band as well was flag bearers, candle holders, etc.

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There can be as many as 12 men in front and another 12 in back, and they link arms with each other to maintain balance.

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Our position was about one hour into the procession, with 23 more hours to go.

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Truly, there was a cast of thousands involved.

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The movement of the statues requires incredible coordination and stamina, and it was evident it was quite an honor among the carriers.

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Each team is responsible for its own decorations and costumes and raises funds well in advance.

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The bands come from the various provinces around Trapani.

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As the lit urn passed, the mood was quite solemn.

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If you look carefully, you can see the body of Christ in the urn.

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A candle lit procession preceded Our Lady of Sorrows.

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Here are two short videos I took with music that really represents the tone and mood of the procession. The swaying is part of the pageantry, and the clapper you hear is what is used to stop and start the movement of the platforms, which happens about every 30 to 50 feet.

The day before the procession, we were able to see all of the life-size statues as the final preparations were made at the Church of the Purgatorio.

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As you can imagine, it was quite a spectacle to behold.

Best wishes and Happy Easter. Auguri e Buona Pasqua!

Judy

Shrove Tuesday, Carnevale in Venezia

9 Feb

Although the high today will reach about 20°, Benita invited Len and me to join her for pazcki, the Polish deep-fried donut that signals the coming of Lent. We headed to Firecakes Donuts in Lincoln Park, where we tried the raspberry ones, then took a lemon for later. Definitely worth the calories!

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Eating the pazcki reminded me of Venice’s Carnevale, the huge winter festival celebrated with  parades, masquerade balls, musicians, music, and parties. Although today is Shrove Tuesday, the official date of Carnevale, Italians like others have been celebrating for weeks.

It’s thought that the Carnival of Venice was started as part of a victory celebration in 1162. Over the years, Carnevale took on various meanings, and was outlawed completely in 1797 under the rule of the King of Austria. In the 19th century, it gradually reappeared and in 1979, the Italian government brought it back as a means of highlighting the history and culture of Venice.

Today, approximately 3 million people attend Carnevale annually. They are awed, not only by Venice’s buildings, bridges, gondolas and canals, but also by the incredible attention to detail that goes into the costumes and pageantry. On the last weekend of Carnevale, a competition is held to determine la maschera più bella  or “the most beautiful mask”. The contest is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers, and when you see the incredible artistry, you’ll understand why.

Many thanks to my dear friends Marco and Mario for allowing me to share their amazing photos.

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Mario in Venetian Mask Shop©Blogginginitaly.com

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So glad I didn’t have to choose a favorite – tough work for the judges!

Ciao,
Judy

Cortona Remembers

9 Nov

Sunday, November 8, the people of Cortona celebrated National Unity and Armed Forces Day, or Giorno dell’Unità Nazionale e Festa delle Forze Armate.

Accompanied by the local marching band,

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dignitaries in dress uniform paid tribute

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and laid wreaths at the three beautiful monuments honoring those who served.

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Townspeople and tourists joined in the parade as it marched through town and ended at the entrance to the park. To view a short clip of the ceremony, click below.

Ciao,
Judy

La Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta

5 Oct

The Archidado Joust, which occurs the second Sunday of June in Cortona, traces its origins back to the Middle Ages. It was created in 1397 to celebrate the wedding the Lord of Cortona to a noble woman from Siena. For several weeks in June, town’s people are dressed in medieval style and banners are hung representing the various quarters of the town. Competition is fierce for the crossbow event.

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But how does one learn to use a crossbow? Like other sports, it requires years and years of practice and training, often passed down from parent to child. To assist in this learning, The Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta (Bowmen of Owl Association) was established in July 2010.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Its purpose is “to practice and spread archery by using historical bows and learning everything about this discipline, from knowing different timbers, knowing how to use hand crafted bows made by skilled archers, how to make arrows, and how to shoot them both towards fixed or moving targets.”

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The Association participates in tournaments in many towns all over Italy, and for the second year, in Cortona.

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Although the weather didn’t participate, the costumed participants put on quite a show.

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The Bowmen move in assigned groups and have specific times to attempt each target. Creative and challenging objects are placed around the town, some with moving targets such as below. Here, a string is pulled and the large black disc swings as a pendulum.

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Others are stationary, but no less difficult, as in needing to shoot though two openings to hit the target from quite a distance away.

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Some targets are placed at the end of tiny viccoli or streets; here a father is shielding his young bowmen from the rain…

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as others cheered them on.

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Participants carefully checked their status and timing at each station.

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After shooting, bowmen would examine their results and retrieve their arrows.

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as some of the junior members just tried to stay dry and warm.

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Later in the afternoon, the participants gathered and the winners were announced. A new event in an ancient city, reminding us of medieval times gone by.

Ciao,

Judy

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