Thursday, 27 September 2012

... and Tuscany

After the first part of our pilgrimage earlier this month, we moved on to northern Tuscany. We stayed at Montecatini Terme, a very pleasant spa town. At the same time, the Miss Italy pageant was being held - by coincidence... of course!

Each day we visited a different town. First was Lucca, which was new to me. Surrounded by its massive walls, it's a medieval city with very fine churches. We headed for St Martin's cathedral, which houses the Santo Volto or Holy Face, a very old crucifix, much venerated through the Middle Ages. After Mass we had a wander through the old streets then dispersed for a few hours. After lunch a few of us made our way to Puccini's birthplace, where there's a little museum. Before leaving I went into the church of San Michele in Foro in the main square, where I found a beautiful della Robbia terracotta of the Madonna and Child (left).
The next day we hit Florence, where I had been several times before. I was privileged to celebrate Mass in the grand surroundings of the Cathedral, where I found a new translation missal ready marked at all the right pages. Fr M approves! Then after a stroll to the Ponte Vechio and the Piazza della Signoria, we dispersed in the Santa Croce area. After another scrummy pavement Italian lunch we got back to the coach for a drive up to the famous viewpoint over Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo (see pic).
Our last full day took us to Pisa, where a longish walk from the designated coach park brought us to the stunning cathedral grounds, or Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). The buildings are indeed stunning - baptistery, cemetery, cathedral and of course the campanile, the famous Leaning Tower. I found the cathedral a very beautiful surprise, inside as well as out.  Then we made our way via Torre del Lago, the home of Puccini, to the resort of Viareggio for lunch and a stroll. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated over the morning, but it didn't take away from a lovely day, which we ended with Mass in the parish church of our hotel.
As is our custom the pilgrimage ended with a special supper and presentations. I was delighted to receive a very posh leather cabin-size and wheelable little suitcase, which the group bought because they felt sorry for me lugging my alb, missal and lectionary around in my shoulder bag!  Bless...

Sunday, 23 September 2012


So everything on our September Pilgrimage went well. In fact we've been back for over a week.  I enjoyed revisiting the various sites connected with St Francis and St Clare in the first part of our journey this year. When I first visited Assisi in my 20s I don't remember it being so hilly!  St Francis Basilica was mega-busy, and it was a relief to go to Greccio, where he made the first Crib, and the Hermitage to where he and his companions would retire for peace and prayer. Our Masses all went well, I feel, and we had a meaningful prayer service in the woods at the Hermitage, which people seem to have enjoyed.  One of my favourite moments was having the chapel of the Stigmata at Mt La Verna to myself for five minutes (pics show the chapel, with a candle marking the stone of the stigmata, and beautiful della Robbia altarpiece, plus another of the view outside) while the group were on the guided tour. St Francis seemed particularly close at that moment.
Spoleto, where we stayed, turned out to be a lovely place, too. The hotel was great, spacious and spotless. We all had nice rooms with views over the Umbrian hillsides. The cathedral was very impressive - as were the ice-creams in a little place along the street from our hotel! I can recommend the Hotel dei Duchi in Spoleto (ie "Dukes' Hotel") to anyone looking for a base in Umbria. Fr M approves. More about part 2of our pilgrimage next time...


Monday, 3 September 2012

Bye Bruges - buon giorno Assisi

So that's enough of Bruges! After my six days there I spent some time with my family, including a day with my brother and sister and families down in Farnborough. It was one of the few lovely sunny days of this wretched summer, and we had a great day. After a barbecue lunch we just relaxed in the back garden and ended up everyone playing boules on the lawn. I even managed to win a round!
So then it was back to the ranch and into parish routine. Fr T is in India and we are blessed with the presence of Fr Frederick TOR from Bangla Desh. There is still much talk about the proposed change on Mass times across the city. Then Fr Tomy emailed to say his flight back was cancelled and he can't get back for another week - the week I am going on our annual September pilgrimage. So I've been chasing my tail to get priests to cover three Masses for this coming weekend.
We're off to Assisi and Tuscany for eight nights - four staying in Spoleto, near Assisi, and four in Montecatini Terme, between Florence and Pisa. Regulars will know that I've been involved in these pilgrimages since 1990, so it's obvious that I love them! Sometimes it's somewhere new to me - like Krakow and Provence the last two years (that's why we go there!). Other times, it's to places that I now know, like Rome or the Holy Land. This time it's a mixture as I know Assisi very well, and I have been to Florence twice. But Lucca, Viareggio and Pisa are new to me - well you've got to do the Leaning Tower, haven't you?
So there will be a week's gap, folks, and normal service wil be resumed soon...