Monday, 22 February 2016

One day on the Way of Saint Francis - the Archbishop, the wee ginger dog and the lamb

Some days are just perfect on pilgrimage. You don't know when they will happen nor often why they happen. Things just come together and it is as if that day encapsulates everything. This is what happened the day we walked to Trevi.  It could have been any day or any stage on this beautiful route. The sun shone high in a cloudless sky, we donned our shorts and I slapped on the factor 50  and off we went for an idyllic day walking.  The landscapes were lovely.  Sometimes we spoke and often we walked in silence. Bees sucked pollen from flowering wild rosemary and we startled two slumbering horses in a grove of olive trees.  We were greeted with many "salves" from local people and we had a huge laugh with an older chap pruning his olive trees when we tried to persuade him to walk to Rome with us.
Soon we were rising steadily to the old town of Trevi which seemed to hang on the hillside.  It was hot and we hurried to find our hotel.  This was a simple but beautiful pension run by a young couple,  their children occupying the foyer playing games. It was clear this was their home.  On the lower floor was a dining room and they confirmed there would be dinner later.
I've walked several thousand kilometres with Stephen. We've been friends a very long time and we've got used to travelling together.  There is a set routine. On arrival we check in and get to the room. I take off my boots, sort out what has to be washed, have a shower and immediately assume a prone position.  His Holiness however drops his rucksack and heads off to explore the town,  visit the churches, get a sello and find out if there is an evening mass.  Trevi was no different.  My siesta was disturbed by the chirping of photographs arriving of the cathedral, the old town and the sello he'd got.  His most enthusiastic message was to announce that there was mass with the Archbishop to celebrate the restoration of a local church.  I groaned.
At the appointed hour we made our way the short distance to the little 15th century church of Saint John the Baptist.  I went back next morning to take the photograph above.  The evening before however we had to squeeze in at the back.  It seemed as if the whole town was there. In front the mayor wore a sash of national colours over his anorak. The church had seats for 80 people and there were over 100 squeezed in.  The mayor set the dress code.  These were ordinary working people from the pueblo. There were the senior citizens gossiping in twos and threes, nudging each other to stare when someone else arrived. " Would you look at what she's wearing and her husband barely cold," "look at him, they say he owes the butcher a fortune." There were three young men,  two wearing beanies which never came off all staring at mobile phones,  a smartly dressed young couple who seemed to be glued together and a group of men who came in and out wafting cigarette smoke with them.  Mobile phones rang and were answered none too discretely and a burly man clutched his ringing phone as he went from front row to outside the door only to shout so loudly into it everyone could hear what he was saying. People waved to each other, kisses were exchanged and there were lots of hugs.  A woman arrived helping a very old woman through the throng.  People crowded round her in welcome.  A bustling woman went in search of a seat for her and with a crooked finger called someone from their place to create a space.  A tall, well built man beside us leaned on his walking stick and harrumphed.
There was a stirring at the door as a figure appeared picking his way through the crowd.  Tall and regal he was wearing an elegant black cape right down to the ground.It was fastened at the neck with a silver chain and his shiny patent leather shoes poked out below. Had someone asked, "what have you come as," I wouldn't have been surprised.  This evening the Archbishop had come as the Archbishop. 
As His Grace made his way to the front the volume of chatter did not recede. A priest emerged from the sacristy and rescued the prelate.  Soon the little organ struck up the opening hymn and it was remarkably well played.  The mayor made a short speech explaining that the church had been damaged some years before in an earthquake and had now been restored.  He spoke with obvious affection and the people clapped rapturously.  His Grace then took over and the Mass proceeded.  There seems to be something about Catholic priests when they get in front of a microphone: they either ask for money or speak far too long and frequently they do both. The long introduction over there were the usual readings from Scripture and then the Archbishop stood to give the sermon.  I was concerned that unlike Señor Mayor he had no notes. What followed was a convoluted repetition of holy sounding platitudes delivered in a steady drone.  I looked around. There were quite a lot of people whose eyes had glazed over,  even more chatted in whispers to their neighbours, the three young men were still on their smartphones and the young lovers had left.  Whilst His Grace was in full drone the man with the walking stick walked slowly down the aisle staring at people daring them to give him a seat. He ended up standing right in front of the Arch who continued oblivious. Then with a squeeze he managed to get in beside the Mayor who was left with one buttock on the pew.  My attention was caught by a disturbance near us at the back.  Out from under the folds of a señora's coat appeared a small ginger dog dressed in a doggie overcoat of the Royal Stewart tartan.  "Awwww"  smiled the people round about at the sight.  "AWWWW" smiled more people when the little charmer gave a paw to the neighbouring worshippers.  "Look Gabriella has the wee dog with her"  rippled round the congregation. The boys looked up from their mobile phones and at last the Archbishop finished.  Order was restored the next moment he intoned the Credo,  the great statement of faith. The people rose and with one voice responded "I believe in one God..." The wee dog was lying quietly under a chair and only reappeared at the Sign of Peace when  everyone shakes hands. Everyone around clapped the dog - I was sure Francis would approve!  I think he would also approve of this little community who smiled and welcomed the two pilgrims. I'm sure they meant no disrespect to the Archbishop but he was so clearly not one of them nor did he try to be. Francis could have shown him the way.
Starving we made our way back to the dining room in the little hotel.  The young dad of the family was wearing chef's whites and his wife showed us to a table.  The children were still playing happily in the foyer. Chef brought the menus and we chose a starter of one of his specialities - an antipastone to share.  There was everything.  Cured meats and several cheeses, toast with five different toppings, pickled vegetables and homemade bread. Then placed in front of us was scrambled eggs with truffle.  I'm salivating at the memory. 
We hadn't had lamb on this journey so far.  Lamb is so good in Scotland we tend to think it is unbeatable. However we followed the chef's recommendation and what he served was memorable.  This meat was rich and succulent and cooked to perfection.  When I asked he confirmed the animals are raised within a few kilometres on the Umbrian hills. His very own apple cake followed drizzled with yummy freshly made custard.
That's the story so far.  Days of splendid walking,  worshipping with down to earth local people in little tight-knit communities and eating like kings. I'm definitely not giving up pilgrimage for Lent.

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