Saturday, 20 February 2016

Big climbs, big sleeps, big bells - further adventures on the Way of Saint Francis

Valfabbrica - Assisi 13.4 kms
Assisi - Foligno 20 kms
Foligno -Trevi 13.6 kms

"Assisi is on top of a hill" messaged the Big Man's sister. "There's quite a climb up to Assisi," Wassupped Fr Dominic from London. "I was in Assisi as a student," chimed the BM, "I'm sure we went up a big hill."
"With friends like these..." I thought as we kissed goodbye to Anna Rita and the Hostel San Francisco. Even after another good night's sleep I felt sluggish but the anticipation of reaching Assisi spurred me on.  It was a lovely day walking.  The sun came out and for the first time the factor 50 had to be applied to the bald pate! We made very good time despite a couple of nippy elevations and eventually we could see the Basilica of San Francisco on the hilltop.  Was there an escalator?  Elevator?  Cable car?  None of the above.  Just an almighty hill. Deep breath and 40 minutes later we were up. We went through the archway and immediately I was struck by how beautiful the buildings were.  Tall, built of blond stone, some with green shutters on the windows, some with brown.  A lane to the left wad bedecked with hanging baskets of plants. And suddenly the Basilica of San Francisco was before us.  The plain facade seemed understated, almost disappointing, I thought as we waited in line for the machine gun carrying soldiers to search our rucksacks.  Then I realised that this was the Tomb of the Saint and fount of the Franciscan Order dedicated to poverty and simplicity.  How could it not he so. We entered into the cavernous nave, painted from floor to ceiling with frescos depicting scenes from the Saint's life.  Below in the massive crypt lies the Tomb and another nave. We went to the Pilgrims Office where a priest with splendid disinterest stamped our credenciales and gave us our certificates for having walked at least 70 kms to Assisi.  Such was his diffidence as soon as we were outside the Big Man said, "one pilgrim welcome service in Santiago is enough don't even think about it". We went to the 5.30 mass and we were welcomed by name as two Scottish pilgrims who had walked from Florence. A walk around the town revealed how lovely it is sitting on the hillside above a vast valley which stretches as far as the eye can see.  But we were exhausted.  The days from Florence had been exhilarating but at times very tough.  I went to bed happy.  Tomorrow we'd set out for Rome! 
Having gone to bed early I awoke after 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  After a good breakfast and a final visit to the Basilica we were off.  The sun shone and the skies were clear. What followed was a brilliant day's walking following the clearly marked path first to Spello then on to Foligno. Down in the valley we could see the massive church of Our Lady of the Angels - to be visited next time. From the route we could see the whole of the surrounding countryside with communities and church spires dotted everywhere.  As noon approached the Angelus was heralded by the deep sonorous bells of Santa Maria degli Angeli soon to be joined by another, then another and more.  It seemed as if the entire valley was ringing out this call to prayer. I thought of the way the world has changed since Francis's time. At home in London the bells of Saint Mary's ring alongside the call to prayer broadcast from loudspeakers from the minaret of the local mosque as all the while the Sikh community gather less than half a mile away in the local gurdwara. I wondered what Francis would make of it?  I'm certain he would have been more than comfortable.  It seems to me that just as pilgrimage is a spiritual journey we make as much inside ourselves as outside so too must tolerance begin with me wanting peace deep inside. These thoughts were punctuated by the putt-putt of farmers driving to their olive groves in little three wheel pick ups. There were many smiles and waves and soon we were sitting having coffee in John F Kennedy Square in the little town of Spello.  It only has 8500 residents but boasts 27 medieval churches. The bells, the bells! Just a couple of hours later we were in a very comfortable hotel in Foligno. Tired again we had an early dinner of an amazing platter of antipasto with warm creamed butter beans followed by chicken and pork ribs roasted on an open fire in the middle of the restaurant!
Today has been a short day and we covered the 13.5  kms in 3.5 hours. The sun shone all day as we walked up to the village of Trevi which sits at the foot of snow capped mountains. Yes, it is as beautiful as it sounds!

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