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San Francesco d’Assisi

4 Oct

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. He lived from 1182 – 1226, and during his lifetime, founded several orders including the men’s Order of Friars Minor and the women’s Order of Saint Clare. He was canonized on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. He, along with Saint Catherine of Siena, are the patron saints of Italy.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated today, October 4. Throughout Italy, and in particular the central parts of Italy where St. Francis lived, there are many celebrations in his honor. Unlike so many of the gold and ornate churches and monasteries, those of St. Francis tend to be simple in design and without pretense.

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

From our front door, it is 115 steps, mostly up, to San Francesco in Cortona, and it is well worth the climb. The sparse interior holds many treasures and is our favorite among Cortona churches.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

According to Cortona history, the Church was built over the ruins of a Roman bath. The area, which was a municipal property, had been donated to Friar Elia, Francis’ successor, who had the church built in honor of St. Francis. The facade, the large door, and the entire left wall are part of the original church which was dedicated in 1254. Friar Elia is buried in the choir area behind the altar.

The interior underwent renovations in the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time, several incredible original frescoes from the school of Buffalmacco, dating back to 1382, were rediscovered behind paintings.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

On the altar, in a large marble baroque tabernacle dating from 1619, is a relic from the Holy Cross, donated to Friar Elia by the Constantine Emperor.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And finally, to the left of the main altar is the statue of St. Francis and some items as described below.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

As I write, the bells from the church are ringing. Three of the five are electric, but of the original two, one was cast in 1250 and the second in 1267.

In addition to this beautiful church, Cortona is home to Le Celle, an incredible monastery and sanctuary which developed both during and after St. Francis’ life.

It is here that you can see the room, or cell, where St. Francis slept.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Every time I visit either the San Francesco Church or Le Celle, I find myself caught up in the tranquility each has to offer. And while Cortona can sometimes be a bustling town, each of these remains an oasis of serenity – a wonderful place to reflect, meditate, pray, or simply take in the moment.

For more on Le Celle, click on a previous post: Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, Cortona.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

San Galgano

28 Sep

Between 1218 and 1288, the Cistercian  monks built the first gothic church in Tuscany. Its location was selected because Cistercian monks built their monasteries close to rivers, here the Merse, where they could cultivate the plains, marshlands and woods.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Several tragedies struck the area, including the famine of 1329, the plague of 1348, and finally mercenaries at the end of the 15th century, causing the monks to relocate to Siena. Then in 1786, lightning struck the bell tower, which collapsed onto the roof of the Abbey, causing the roof to collapse.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

In 1789, the Abbey was deconsecrated, but the remains are still quite a site.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

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©Blogginginitaly.com

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©Blogginginitaly.com

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©Blogginginitaly.com

If you look closely through the Abbey window below, you will see a bit of The Hermitage of San Galgano, up the hill from the Abbey, and a place steeped in legend.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

On our hike uphill, we passed a vineyard where grapes continue to be harvested, and saw locals on horseback riding through the fields.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148, and the events of his life have been enriched by legends, some of which we see in Camelot. Galgano, like Francis of Assisi, was born into a life of means but was tormented by a lack of direction for own life, even though he had earned the title of Knight.

According to legend, at the insistence of St. Michael the Archangel, Galgano became a hermit. To demonstrate his commitment to his faith and to peace, he plunged his sword into a rock that emerged in his hut. This was Galgano’s sign of his renunciation of war and the symbol of the cross was a symbol of his faith.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Galgano died in 1181, and in 1182, construction began on the Hermitage Rotunda as a mausoleum to shelter his tomb, as well as the rock and sword. He was canonized in 1185 by Pope Lucius III, only a few years after his death.

Over the years, there were several additions and modifications to the structure, as well as periods of demise. It is thought that the original architect may have drawn his inspiration from other circular structures in Rome such as Castel Sant’Angelo and the Pantheon.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Whether the details are accurate history or legend, it is incredible to see what remains, including the vibrant colors.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,

Judy

 

 

“Italy the Extraordinary Commonplace”

25 Jan

We often read of the demise of Italy as a major producer and exporter, so the following video was made to counter some of these less than favorable descriptions.

Per Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy,

The video “Italy the extraordinary commonplace” is designed to show Italy beyond stereotypes, a major producer of technological goods and the second European exporter in mechanical engineering and automation. 

Since I love visiting Italy, I found this information to be great news. As for the format, well, leave it to the ever creative Italians. Thanks, Anna, for sharing.

Ciao,

Judy

Through His Words: Day Thirty-One

13 Jun

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

 

Grand Hotel Flora – Roma

Rome
Monday. August 15, 1938

“Eureka” !!

At last I received word from home and Maude dearest, was I ever so happy I felt like a child with the new toy. I got one from you, one from Billy, and one from Joe Montenegro, and it is just exactly one month since I left home.

You say you sent two letters to Naples. Well Naples is my last port of call and of course, I won’t get them until I get there Wednesday. I had hoped you sent some to Milan via American Express Company, which I should have received by now, however, I was so glad to hear from you, I will forgive you for any errors you may have made in connection with the mail.

Sometimes we just need to vent our frustrations!

I am glad to hear everyone home is in good health and Billy tells me he sees to it that you get out and enjoy yourself. Thank Billy for his letter, it was real cute. Also tell him I have taken a lot of pictures to show him when I get home. I am also very happy to know Monte is getting better. It certainly was a tragedy, and what a difference it would have made if he was in good condition and had made the trip with me.

I had expected to go to the American Express Company hoping to get mail, but this is a holiday over here. In fact, from Saturday to Tuesday, all shops are closed. The holiday is called Ferragosto and it is equal to our Labor Day.

Still celebrated today, Ferragosto is the August 15 holiday when Italians celebrate the harvest following a long period of agricultural labor.

Well, I took it rather easy yesterday, it being Sunday. I went to St. Peter’s to church,

St. Peter's at night - blogginginitaly.com

St. Peter’s at night – blogginginitaly.com

after which I walked around the Foro Romano (ruins) and the Coliseum.

romeisalwaysagoodidea

romeisalwaysagoodidea.wordpress.com

Then I went to Fermes for dinner. They have been very nice to me and I wish you will drop them a line when I get home for the hospitality shown me. He has been with me every day since I got here, and I have met some very big shots here through him. By the way, his brother is a big mogul here but I am out of luck so far as meeting Prince Potenziani and others as they are all out of town in the country and naturally cannot be seen. However, I saw the Pope and I’m satisfied.

Alex was the first licensed Italian-American architect in the state of Illinois. In 1933, the Century of Progress Exhibition would open in Chicago. Prince Potenziani, the Royal Italian Commissioner to the Exposition, had chosen Alex to supervise the construction of the Italian Pavilion. The Prince was in Chicago for its opening, and bestowed a decoration on Alex for his work.

February 20, 1933 Ground Breaking for the Italian Pavilion. Prince Potenziani center

February 20, 1933 Ground Breaking for the Italian Pavilion. Prince Potenziani center. (Herald and Examiner Photo)

Italian Pavilion Alexander V Capraro  - Associate and Supervising Architect, Chicago

Italian Pavilion 1933,   M. Derenzi, A. Libera, A. Valente –  Architects Rome
Alexander V. Capraro – Associate and Supervising Architect, Chicago

Mr. and Mrs. Ferme and I went to the Camposanto of Rome early in the evening and it certainly was a sight to behold, altogether different from ours. Then we went to what is known as the “Baths of Caracalla” – an old ruin immense in size. They use it for open air grand opera. You should only have the chance to see it. It is a spectacle no other place in the world has. The opera was Aida. The stage, set between two huge pillars several thousand years old, 400 musicians in the orchestra, 1000 actors on the stage, the best opera stars, 20,000 people in the audience, and the seats filled only about one-third of the inside of the magnificent ruin.

BathsOfCaracalla en.wikipedia.org

Baths of Caracalla –  en.wikipedia.org

Still today during the summer, the Caracalla Baths turn into a platform for breathtaking Teatro dell Opera performances. I need to add this to our Bucket list!

tatistidbits.com/2012/09/24

tatistidbits.com/2012/09/24

 Powerful lights turn night into day. Finally the lights go out, the orchestra starts playing, and then absolute silence in the throng of 20,000 spectators, real music lovers, real critics of ability. And I was almost breathless in the enjoyment of such a marvelous spectacle, a performance which can be held only in Rome, the Eternal City. And what a wonderful city this is. Paris was great, Venice was unusual and wonderful, but Rome is ever interesting, ever bewitching, the city of antiquity and modernism all-in-one; the city of the Caesars of yesterday and of great men of today. Clean as a whistle, law and order 100%, and no end to art, sculpture, painting, music and culture.

1938 Roma postcard

1938 Roma postcard

The men and women both dress as good if not better than we do in the States and they parade on the streets in smart style and the height of fashion. The evenings are spent mostly at little tables on the sidewalks, eating gelati or caffe. Every street is almost the same as far is this feature is concerned and all of them are lighted better than Madison Street at Crawford Avenue. Well, I better stop raving because I could go on like this for hours about Rome.

Today I visited three of the most important churches next to St. Peter’s, besides some smaller ones, and best of all, I made the holy stairs of St. John the Lateran. This is the most sacred spot in Rome. As the enclosed card shows, there are 28 wooden steps leading to an altar of our crucified Lord.

St. John Lateran

St. John Lateran

In order to gain an indulgence, you must kneel on the first step and say certain prayers, or the rosary will do. You must continue this on each and every step without rising on your feet or without touching the step below with your feet – only your knees. In other words, you must drag yourself up to the top on your hands and knees, stopping at each step to say prayers. I did it today and believe me, I thought I would never get to the 28th step. My kneecaps felt as if they were torn to pieces by the time I finished, but I made it, and Maude, what a feeling of relief as well as gratitude towards our Lord you have when you get to the top. Well, I hope the good Lord will reward the effort in answer to the prayers I offered for you, et all.

The other churches follow in rank next to St. Peter’s are St. Paul, St. John Lateran, and Santa Maria Maggiore.

St. Paul

St. Paul

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore interior - blogginginitaly.com

Santa Maria Maggiore interior – blogginginitaly.com

They are so gorgeous it is difficult to describe the grandeur of these churches. All told, there are 400 churches, every one of them would make Resurrection looks sick. In the main churches I mentioned, you could actually put a half dozen churches like Resurrection and still have room for Santa Maria on Alexander Street.

Then I saw the Pantheon, a very old edifice where the bodies of King Victor Emmanuel II and others are buried.

Pantheon at night - bloggingintialy.com

Pantheon at night – bloggingintialy.com

Tomorrow I shall spend at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum, and National Museum, and then I think I shall have seen enough of Rome to remember it vividly.

Two of the most beautiful art treasures Alex would long remember are Michelangelo’s Pieta, (1498–1499)

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

and his Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508-1512).

You should have a month here alone to do a good job of it. It is 8 PM and I am waiting for Ferme to go out to dinner somewhere. 

P.S. Confidential
Ferme and I have seen certain officials here about the decoration for PA and it will come but not before April 21, 1939. There is an absolute law that cannot be broken by anyone that this particular class of decoration be given and presented on April 21 only, that being Natale di Roma and Festa di Lavoro. The decoration is called Stella Merita di Lavoro and is given an recognition for long and meritorious labor. Ferme has already written the council in Chicago about it.

Based on my research, this “medal of honor” dates back to a Royal Decree 1898 to recognize industrialists and their employees. In 1927,  it was extended to Italians living abroad who have given evidence of patriotism, honesty and hard work as an example to their countrymen. Alex was researching the viability of this honor for his father-in-law, Maude’s father.

In the meantime, good luck, and God bless you. Loads of love and my very best to all at home.

Finally Alex was content. He had heard from his family and knew all was well. He effortlessly penned an eight page letter to Maude, the love of his life, describing in detail the treasures of Rome he would never forget, and that she would only ever “see” through his eyes. Lucky for Maude, Alex’s eyes absorbed deep beyond the surface, as only an architect could.

As ever yours, AL 

Ciao

Judy

 

More Rome

18 Feb

My last two days in Rome brought some incredible experiences. I spent Tuesday with Roman locals, the parents of a friend from Austin. Giovanna picked me up Tuesday morning and we did a whirlwind tour around Rome. We began the day at The Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome, the oldest surviving Roman basilica.

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It is famous for its cypress doors, which may date to the early 5th century when the church was built, and are said to contain the first depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus.

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From there we drove to the Villa del Priorato di Malta, home to the Grand Priory in Rome of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which remains a sovereign entity. IMG_1528

The Villa may be best known for a keyhole in the door

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through which you can clearly see Saint Peter’s Basilica, far across the city. The first photo is from my phone; the second shows exactly what you see through the keyhole.

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220px-StPetersBasilica_Keyhole_2

wiki photo

From there, we saw part of the original Roman Wall called the Servian Wall, sections of which are still visible in various locations around Rome. The Servian Wall was a defensive barrier constructed around the city of Rome  in the early 4th century BC.

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Next on to lunch at my “guide’s” home. What a thrill it is for me to be invited into the home of local Romans and share in their passion for all things Italian. I was introduced to Giovanna’s husband and together we shared wonderful conversation and the most delicious lunch, beginning with Champaign in the drawing-room.

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From there, we moved to the dining room and were treated to Spaghetti con vongole

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Sicilian artichokes and a rolled meat and cheese dish (sorry I don’t know the name!)

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IMG_1542A beautiful vegetable terrine

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Fennel saladIMG_1544

and homemade apple torta!

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We conversed easily in both Italian and English and spent a great deal of time talking about places and treasures to visit in Italy.

After lunch, more of my tour. First up was a ride along Appia Antica, or as you may know it, the Appian Way. IMG_1550

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From there we drove to the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 18BC-12BC as a tomb for magistrate Gaius Cestius. At the time it was built, it lay in the open countryside as tombs were not permitted within the city walls.

IMG_1557The pyramid was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls, close to Porta San Paolo.

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Up next, La Bocca della Verità, aka The Mouth of Truth. This ancient Roman marble disc displays a carving of a man-like face and is thought to have been part of a first century fountain or even a manhole cover. Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and put your hand in the mouth, it will be bitten off. So be warned! During the 17th century, it was placed in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the church which is home to relics of St. Valentine.

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And finally, on to ancient temples before heading home.IMG_1563

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What an amazing day I had, with my ever hospitable and knowledgeable private tour guide and now new friend.

And to think we did all that in this:

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Giovanna, grazie per una giornata meravigliosa e una ricorderò sempre!

That was Tuesday, and I still had one day left in Rome. What better thing to do than attend a Papal audience.  So that I did, Wednesday morning, along with about 12,000 others, but who’s counting!

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Arrivederci Roma once again. You never fail to amaze. Till next time.

Ciao,

Judy

Some Papal Facts and Legends

12 Feb

Benedict XVI (2005-present, Episcopal form of ...

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

By now, just about everyone knows that Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of February. And although this is unusual, it is perfectly legal under Canon Law and not the first time a Pope has stepped aside. But here are a few other facts you might not know about Papal history:

Papal Nationalities:
While popes can hail from many countries, the majority, or 217 of them have been Italian. The next largest number, 17, comes from France. Rounding out the top five countries are Greece, with 13; Germany with 8, and Syria with 6. Several countries including Africa, Portugal, and Spain have at least two, followed by one each from Galilee, England, the Netherlands and Poland.

Youngest Pope:
In 955AD, at the age of 18, John XII  became the youngest pope. Although there seems to be a myth about Benedict IX being only 12 when he became pope, records set his actual age  at 20.

Fact or fiction?
Was there ever a female pope? According to legend from the 13th century,  John VIII, elected in 855, might have been a British woman posing as a man. “He” was embraced by the Church as a great teacher and ultimately became a bishop before ascending to the papal throne.  After two years, however, the legend says that “Pope Joan’s” secret was out when she gave birth while on horseback. Ultimately in disgrace, she was stoned or hung. Today, there exists no records of a female pope nor scholarly confirmation of her existence.

Papal Names:
It wasn’t until the sixth century that some popes adopted new names upon their election to the papacy. Choosing a new name wasn’t mandatory; rather, it signified whom a pope might want to honor and emulate. Later, the tradition became customary and every pope since the 16th century has done so. The most common names chosen by popes are John, Gregory, Benedict, Clement, Innocent, Leo and Pius. There has only been one Peter.

Ciao,

Judy

 

In the News in Rome

18 Oct

The Conflict

A few weeks ago, in an open letter published in Corriere della Sera, famed Italian literary critic and biographer Pietro Citati recounted his last visit to the Sistine Chapel after not visiting it for several years. In the letter, Citati essentially told the Vatican that it needed to severely limit the number of annual visitors to the Sistine Chapel. During his visit last year, Citati was appalled by what he encountered. A translation of his words shows his disgust:

“It was an unimaginable disaster. The great hall was filled with many hundreds of people: heavy jackets, coats, hats, hoods, raincoats, and umbrellas. Breaths from visitors formed halos, vapors and mists that hung at the ceiling around the Last Judgment, the Creation of Adam and the Sibyls. I believe that in a short time, it will be necessary to restore the Sistine Chapel again, and then, without some limits, gradually the heavy human breath will again fill the vast ceiling of the chapel.”

He also criticized the clapping and loud interruptions from the guards admonishing all to be silent, further inhibiting one’s ability to contemplate the majestic surroundings. Citati compared the visitors to “drunken herds” who end up confused and ultimately see nothing.

The Response

The Vatican’s response, as reported in L’Osservatore Romano, noted that five million people visit the Sistine Chapel each year to admire Michelangelo’s 16th century frescoes.  “We are now in the epoch of mass tourism, millions of people want to enjoy the culture of the past; it is a phenomenon of which we are perfectly aware and which must be faced…” The manager of the Vatican museums added “for the past two years, a study has been under way for the renewal of the ventilation system and damp control. But restricted entry is unthinkable. The Sistine is not only a place of art; it is also a consecrated chapel, a compendium of theology, and a true and proper catechism in pictures.”

A Personal Story

When I was a student in Rome in 1971-2, and my parents came to visit, they had scheduled a tour of the Sistine Chapel through a priest at our home parish.  Back then, there were significantly fewer tourists, so tours of this nature were not so unusual.  Note the daytime picture below of me standing outside the Vatican…it’s NEVER this empty anymore!

Judy (left) at the Vatican

As I recall, we didn’t walk through miles of halls en route to the Chapel, but entered fairly close to the Chapel itself. As our priest guide was explaining various details about paintings in the great halls to my parents, I wandered off alone and through a doorway into another room. Stunned, I looked around, then up at the ceiling…the fingers almost touching…The Creation of Adam….I was in the Sistine Chapel…alone. Truly, honestly, alone, with Michelangelo and his incredible years of work. I will never forget that moment or that sight.

Shortly after, I heard my parents’ slight gasps as they too entered this magnificent room. We stood in awe, mouths open, unable to speak. Together with our guide, we lingered with great astonishment and incredible admiration.

I have visited the Sistine Chapel several times over the last dozen years. Each time, however, the visit grew more and more crowded, noisy and frustrating, so I fully understand Pietro Citati’s concern and dismay. Noisy and sweaty tourists on smart phones stand shoulder to shoulder, often ignoring the ban on flash photography or the request for silence. And yet, limiting entry to the one of the greatest artistic creations of all time is, in the words of the museum director, unthinkable. “The time when only Russian grand dukes, English lords or experts … had access to the great masterpieces of art is definitely over.”

How does the Vatican save yet share, preserve yet provide? Somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum lies the answer. I wonder what Michelangelo would suggest.

Ciao,

Judy

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