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Posts tagged ‘Saints’

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relics

 

As part of of our three week adventure to Austria, Italy, and Turkey (the AIT Tour) we visited Melk Abbey in Melk, Austria. Relics always intrigue me and Melk’s relics were quite something! Thousands of skeletons were dug up from Roman catacombs in the 16th century and moved to churches in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on orders of the Vatican. The relics were sent there to replace the relics destroyed in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s. Mistaken for the remains of early Christian martyrs, the relics became known as the Catacomb Saints, becoming shrines, reminding the faithful of the spiritual treasures in heaven. Both St Clemens and St Friedrich were painstakingly decorated in thousands of pounds worth of gold, silver and gems, by devoted followers, before being displayed in the Melk Abbey niches. Won’t you join me as we adventure on the AIT Tour? Enjoy!

St Friedrich, Melk Abbey, Austria

St Friedrich, Melk Abbey, Austria

St Clemens, Melk Abbey, Austria

St Clemens, Melk Abbey, Austria

One Day in Milan

San Bartolomeo by Marco d'Agrate

San Bartolomeo by Marco d’Agrate

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We are on the early morning commuter train from Varenna to Milan. We are meeting up with a private local guide, Lorenza Scorti, who knows the city’s history well. We have marked off certain sights we would like to see. We are hoping Lorenza has been able to get us tickets to get into the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Last Supper, is housed. One of the leading families of Italy during the Renaissance, the Sforza Family of Milan, hired da Vinci to decorate the dining hall of the Dominican monastery that adjoins the church. Ultimately, the Sforza family was bribing the monks with this gift so the monks would allow their family tomb to be placed in the church.(Which never happened) The fresco began deteriorating within six years of it’s completion due to the experimental technique used by Leonardo.  Bombing during WWII left only one wall standing in the church.  The wall of the Last Supper. Truly a miracle! In 1999 a 21-year restoration project was completed peeling away 500 years of touch-ups, leaving the masterpiece intact.

Lorenza meets us at the central train station and after going up several escalators in the fashionable shopping area of the train station, Lorenza buys tickets for the metro and we are off! It is early morning and the streets are quiet. First stop, the Duomo, with a forest of spires on its roof, is the fourth largest church in Europe, after the Vatican’s, London’s, and Seville’s. The church was built with Pink Candoglia marble, rafted in from a quarry 60 miles away. We went past this quarry on the train when we went to Cinque Terre. Marble is still extracted from the sight. Inside the church is a beautiful marble mosaic floor and looking up we see The Quadroni, (large paintings on canvas, each about 20 by 26 feet) depicting the life of St Charles Borremeo. The paintings have been brought out and displayed for a special anniversary in the church. The 1st cycle of paintings (starting in 1602), The Facts of Life of Blessed Charles, consists of 28 paintings depicting his life, and were painted by seven different artists. The 2nd cycle, The Miracles of St Charles, consisting of 24 smaller paintings of his miraculous works and healings, were all painted between December 1609 and November 1, 1610, when Charles was canonized. These paintings were displayed for the first time together on November 4, 1610, when the paintings of his miracles could be shown after he had been declared a saint. Now they are only displayed on special days in the church and we were fortunate to be able to see them.

The Duomo

The Duomo

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An impressive, detailed statue of San Bartolomeo Flayed (1562), by Marco d’ Agrate, is upfront and center in the church. That is his skin draped over his shoulder!

After the church, we are delighted to be shown a small museum in a private palazzo. I have wanted to see what was behind those big oak doors! Following Lorenza, we are lead through an intricate laid marble entryway and up the stairs to the private apartments.  Today there are collections of clothing, shoes and those little bitty one woman carriage/carriers that were lifted on the shoulders of servants to whisk one about town and prevent your dress and shoes from being soiled. Boy were those women TINY! On the outside of the palazzo is a beautiful fresco above the rim of the windows.  (See the video I made)

The Palazzo

The Palazzo

The Dress

Inside the Palazzo

Next, we walk to the La Scala Opera House and museum, the world’s most prestigious opera house!  All that red velvet! Following that we head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a four story glass domed arcade on the main square, featuring all the Italian high end shopping stores and great for people watching as well. It was the first building in Milan to have electric lighting! Oh how Italians love fashion!  Around the center dome patriotic mosaics symbolize the four major continents and the mosaic marbled floor reveals the city’s symbol, a torino. (little bull) Here locals step and twirl on the bull for good luck.

Inside the Galleria

Inside the Galleria

Il Torino

Il Torino

We go to a local pizza restaurant and I am so glad to sit.  The one person pizzas are HUGE (enough for three people) and we wash it down with good red wine.

Afterwards, we make our way to the Sforza Castle, previously the residence of the Sforza family. It is now a museum of ancient art which features the last and unfinished Pietà, by Michelangelo and the Sala della Asse, frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked for the Sforza family as a painter, sculptor, and hydrologic engineer. Seventeen layers of whitewash are slowing being removed to reveal the entire mural by da Vinci, sections having been discovered on the walls as late as 2013.

The Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

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Our last stop of the day is Santa Maria della Grazie Church and we are thrilled to find admittance tickets waiting for us! The church is now hermetically sealed, so you go through sections of air filter stations, filtering the air from the outside, until it is deemed pollutant free and we are admitted.  At last, a group of twenty, is turned out into the refectory for 15 minutes at a time. In the Convent, where the work on the end wall was started in 1495, the mural, measuring 180 inches by 350 inches, represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. Completed in 1498, the mural specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray Him. Working a new technique, dry plaster rather than wet, and choosing to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, da Vinci painted the sealing layer with tempera. Due to this method the piece began to deteriorate a few years after he finished it. As early as 1517, the painting was starting to flake and by 1556 it was deemed “ruined” and so deteriorated, the figures were unrecognizable.  In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, so the monks could get to the kitchens easier.  This door was later bricked up, but can still be seen as an irregular arch shaped structure near the center base of the painting.  In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting to protect it; but instead it trapped moisture on the painting’s surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back, it scratched the flaking paint. In 1821, Stefano Barezzi, an expert in removing whole frescoes from their walls intact, badly damaged the center section of the mural before realizing the work was not a fresco.(Painted on wet walls) He then attempted to reattach the damaged sections with GLUE.  From 1901 to 1908, Luigi Cavenaghi completed a thorough study of the structure of the painting, then began cleaning it. On August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by a bomb, but a protective structure of sandbags and an additional wall in front of the painting protected it from bomb splinters. Pictures of the damage to the church line the walls upon leaving.  It was the only wall left standing. We leave Milan and return to Menaggio by train and then ferry, weary but so thankful we have been able to see some of the greatest art in the world.

For more information on a private tour of Milan contact Lorenza Scorti at lorenza.scorti@libero.it

Late Night in Roma

Via Della Concilazione

Via Della Concilazione

St Peter's

St Peter’s

The wall around St Peters Square

The Wall Around St Peters Square

The front and main entrance to the church at Santa Brigida faces the square of the Piazza Farnese. Looking out from Santa Brigida to the right on the piazza is the Farnese Palazzo, now the French Embassy.  There is a guard house for the armed soldiers, who carry angry looking machine guns.  A utility vehicle painted in camouflage  looks well equipped with anything needed in a crisis.   Armed guards constantly patrol the grounds of the embassy. Two armed soldiers are posted at the vehicle at all times. The piazza is small and quiet with no markets set up during the day and no hawkers shooting off the plastic rockets that glow like firecrackers when propelled into the night sky. During the day tourists sit on the long marble bench in front of the embassy to rest.

Our room at the convent faced the small cobbled side street and as we looked out our tall narrow window of the room we could see the embassy to the left and a small bar in the next block to the right.  We could hear people walking and talking in the street below despite the fact we were up four floors from the ground level of the street.  Sound travels. The serenading began at 1am.  A group of boys, either drunk or just happy sat on the steps of the building across from the convent and sang loudly and with gusto until 3 AM.  Evidently the guards at the embassy like singing and are trained to stay at their posts and keep a look out, never interfering unless there is a disturbance in the piazza or a run on the building. They are not diverted to singing groups on the side street. The side street is off limits. It’s a good thing we got sleep on the flight over.

The next morning broke clear, sunny and very warm. We went to the breakfast room and were greeted by a nun who was serving two priests an early breakfast. We had the choice of frutta, yoghurt, cereali, salami, fromaggio, caffe e spramuta d’ rancia. (I am practicing my Italian) We decided to walk early in the day, while it was cooler, to the Vatican and I am so glad we did. Staying at the convent is so convenient, despite the outdoor noises, because you can walk to all the main attractions. We walked to the Tiber River and crossing a different bridge than yesterday passed Castel Sant’ Angelo and walked on to St Peter’s Square, which is really round.  At this early hour there were few tourists so we could get some good pictures without heads or bodies in the way. The shops and cafes along Via Della Conciliazione were open at this hour too.  The street cleaners were out with witches brooms sweeping away the last bits of dirt on the sidewalks.  The street cleaning machines started up right after the serenading died down. Hey, maybe the singers ARE the street cleaning machine operators!  The Italians clean the streets early every morning with the same gusto as the singers! Cleaning starts in around 4AM.  We walked on to the square and were greeted by hawkers who could get us in the Vatican, no line. I don’t think so.  I know there is always a long line. There is a great deal of construction going on near the Vatican now so there are many detours to get around the  square and up to the museum. When we finally arrived at the museum that entrance was closed off so we retraced our steps back to St Peters Square. When we got there, there were  hundreds of people winding in a line to get into the Vatican.  We passed around the wrought iron fence designating we were now in Vatican City, a country all it’s own.  We stopped to look at the wares of a man selling Vatican novelties.  He told us he was the only merchant allowed to sell inside Vatican City, on church and state property. His family had sold here from 1945 and the license was passed down through the generations.  He was very nice and telling the truth.  We circled St Peters and never saw another vender inside the fencing.  We went back to him and bought rosaries and tiny, tiny bottles of holy water.  He gave us St Francis medals to wear.  He told us business would not be good today since the crowd was expected to be over 200,000 for the dedications of the Confraternity.  There were a bazillion metal chairs set in the square and that is where the lines were winding as they waited to get into the Vatican.  We hi-tailed out of there before the crowds became worse and stopped at more shops along the way.  I was looking for a Nativity scene.  I have a large set with many shepherds, cows and donkeys and of course the Holy Family.  I wanted a little itsy bitsy one and found it.  Made of hand carved wood it is Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus about one inch tall, all in one tiny piece. Perfetto!  We also bought post cards and posted them in the Vatican City post office.  We then found the stop for the red open air double decker buses, thanks to two Italian girls who overheard us talking and gave us directions. We decided to take a tour of the city.  It was beginning to get HOT so we bought gelato and boarded the bus, climbing to the top.  It is a good way to rest and get a suntan at the same time. After the bus tour we walked back to the Convent passing large groups of people dressed in colorful robes and carrying large banners while praying and walking to the Vatican.  These were the Confraternities.  They were being honored with a mass with the Holy Papa.  Time for a nap to rest up for the evening passegiatta!

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

From the Tour Bus in Roma

From the Tour Bus in Roma

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Rome

Our Room at Santa Brigida

Our Room at Santa Brigida

Day one. Off to Rome. My daughter surprised me with an early Mother’s Day present and updated my ticket to first class!  I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!!!!! Everything is so much nicer in first class.  I could select meals from a menu with several choices and eat delicious food with real forks and spoons.  I ate steak. To sleep I just pushed the button for the seat to maneuver into whatever position was comfortable for me.  I slept great! In no time we were landing in Rome.
We took a cab from the airport to St Brigida Convent in the heart of historic Rome.  The cabbie didn’t fail my expectations by stopping or even slowing down at stop signs.  The signs are only suggestions in Italy. Sister Gertrude met us at the huge oak doors and let us into the convent/hotel located in the Farnese Piazza next door to the Palazzo Farnese, which is now the French Embassy.  In the meeting room we were greeted by an older nun who could not have been over four foot eight and spoke only Italian. Sister Gertrude is the only fluent English speaking nun here at the convent.  Most of the nuns are Indian or Italian. Showing us to our room on the third floor we managed to get our luggage and three people in the elevator meant for one. I was so thankful for that elevator though!  Our room was spotless and the size of most Italian hotel rooms. To get there we passed a small television room and chapel. My daughter and I unpacked and quickly headed out to explore Trastevere, an old neighborhood where the locals live just across the Tiber River. The streets are narrow and the crowds are not here so it is great to explore.  We stopped at a small restaurant with outdoor seating called Gabriels and Gabriella’s right next door to the Church of Santa Maria.  With the bells tolling we dined on fresh pasta and homemade foccaccia with rosemary served in a paper bag.  As it was getting hot we went back to the Convent to rest before going out into the piazza at night.

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

Flowers in Trastevere

Flowers in Trastevere

Trastevere

Trastevere

Santa Brigida

Santa Brigida

Off To Roma

Rome

Rome

Off to Italy!  First stop Rome and Santa Brigida Church and convent where I will be staying while in Rome. Santa Brigida Church is dedicated to Saint Brigida of Sweden and the Swedish National Church (Lutheran) in Rome. The order of St Brigida is found in many countries and their convents serve as a rest, retreat and educational facility for  people of different faiths.   Birgitta Birgirsdotter was born in 1303 in Vadstena, Sweden into a well-to-do family and married Ulf Gudmarrson, a knight, at the age of 14.  They had eight children and one of the girls Karin, also became a saint, Saint Catherina of Sweden.  Ulf died following a pilgrimage taken by both Brigida and Ulf to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. Following Ulf’s death Brigida joined the Order of St Francis and started a community of both men and women in Vadstena.  The idea of men and women serving and working together in the church was unheard of.  In 1350 she and her daughter traveled to Rome, a strenuous trip during the plague, to seek permission for an official order of Bridgettine Sisters and stayed in the Palatium Magnum, the grand palace. Here she remained and served the poor until her death nineteen years later while waiting for permission to start the order, which was granted in 1370, after her death. St Brigida is also know for her visions that started as a child. Some believe she was epileptic, though I am skeptical of this idea.  To survive in the 1300’ s, have eight living children and live well into middle age, in addition to having epilepsy would be a miracle itself.  She wrote down her visions in her book of revelations, especially of the Nativity of Jesus which influenced the scene to be painted as art. In another vision, she was given a prayer later known as the Fifteen “O’s” because in the original Latin verse each prayer started with the letter “O”.  This prayer honored the wounds of Christ and were prayed over the course of one year. This prayer was later recited throughout Europe.  She also wrote many letters to the Pope, who lived in Avignon, France, encouraging him to bring the Papacy back to Rome.  He did.  Under Catherina and later her granddaughter, Casa di Santa Brigida in Rome served as a pilgrimage stop in Campo di Fiori (Field of Flowers) for Swedes coming to Rome on pilgrimage and then as a refuge for Swedish Catholics fleeing the Reformation in Sweden. The convent in Rome changed hands among many different orders of nuns over the years, including the Sisters in Santa Maria in Trastevere, then to the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a French congregation that restored the rooms of St Brigida and her daughter St Catherina.  Next the convent was given to the Polish branch of the Carmelite Order until 1930 when it was restored to the Brigidine Order and Mother Mary Hasselblad.  Mother M. Hasselblad was a Swedish girl who immigrated to the United States for work to help support her family in the early 1900’ s.  She converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and was sent to Casa di Santa Brigida and worked relentlessly to restore the Brigidine Order in Rome.  Later she returned to Sweden and opened a convent in Vadstena  with a group of Brigidine sisters who were now thriving in Rome under her leadership.  It was the first Catholic Order to be restored to the Lutheran country in 400 years. Later the order would expand into Mexico and India, where many of the nuns living at Casa di Santa Brigida are from.  The relics of St Brigida and St Catherina are here in the church. The rest of St Brigida is buried in Sweden at the convent of Vadstena.
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 832
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 683I have never stayed in a convent before or a hotel operated by nuns. This will be a new experience and the location is fantastic. On our previous trip to Rome we stayed in a newly remodeled villa near the US Embassy that had been converted into lovely big rooms with posh furnishings and marble fixtures. It was a bit further out from the major sites and the Vatican. Our room was situated on the top floor with a great view but also up four flights of stairs.  Believe me when I say at the end of the day and after walking miles, I did not look forward to the stairs. Santa Brigida has an elevator, a treasure in any hotel in Europe. The rooms will be smaller, and with no TV. Since I don’t go on vacation to watch TV this is perfect for me. The description given by guests is, “the casa is spotless, a safe refuge in the heart of Rome and the nuns very friendly and helpful to everyone.”  Located in the Farnese Piazza, near Campo di Fiori, it will be close to restaurants, shopping and the sites.  I want to do two things in Rome, besides dwelling in Casa St Brigida.  One, is to walk and explore the Trastevere neighborhood.  This neighborhood is what most Americans think of when they think of Italy.  The walk includes twisting cobblestone streets, local cafes, gift boutiques, and wine, cheese and coffee shops. I’m sure there will be a gelato stop or two. People watching should be ideal. The second item to do is Rick Steves, Heart of Rome Walk.  This walk starts in Campo di Fiori and ambles through narrow lanes to the most colorful neighborhoods of fountains, piazzas and shopping, ending at the Spanish Steps.  This walk passes by the Pantheon, the Parliament, and the Trevi Fountain but since I have seen these sights before I will be focusing on the walk and the people.  I want to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and stroll among the rich and Roman before I move on to Montepulciano and Il Sasso, the Italian Language school.

Next a post from Italy!

My Take on Magnificent Corpses

Duomo Florence Italy

Duomo Florence Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

I find myself drawn to historical books (and some not so historical) about saints, pilgrimages, the Medici clan, Leonardo da Vinci and the Catholic Church. All throughout Italy there are beautiful small churches, grand duomos, magnificent basilicas, filled with beautiful earth shattering art and sculptures. When I was in high school I had to take an art appreciation class as a freshman and I hated it. Pictures in a book. However, when I went to Italy and saw the real McCoy I wanted to know more.  Who were the painters, the sculptors, the saints?  What did it all mean? In the churches I had known,  there might be a small cross, maybe a statue of Mary, or stained glass windows of Jesus as a shepherd with baby lambs. Church buildings looked to be a gymnasium. You get the picture. The Italian church soared into an azure sky, the pink marble glistened in the sun, the saints peered down at you.  In Italy the fresco scenes were filled with gnashing of bodies or cherub angels floating across an Italian landscape.  Sometimes both in the same scene. The detail and brilliance of color and depth in the scenes of people in deep distress or in a trance beyond words was captivating. There were armored men going on crusade urging their followers forward. A woman standing steadfast while  holding  the bloody head of a man in her gnarly strong hand.  The  man  triumphant over the defeated slain dragon. The pictures became real.  The pictures told stories.  You didn’t even have to know the story, you got the message. No matter what language you spoke, words weren’t necessary.  The frescoes and paintings said it all. Passion.  Faith.

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

And I wanted to know more about those bones.  Those pieces of bodies and what they were there for.  I think the first relic (term for holy bits and pieces of people or their clothing) I remember and payed any attention to, was inside a tiny glass window lit up in an alcove in a small exit way leaving a church. It was a hand.  I thought well that is odd and went up closer to take a better look.  It was a real shriveled up cut off hand.  I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked around me. Do you act like you didn’t see it?  Ho hum that’s nice. Do you drop to your knees and pray?  Why was that there? I was taken back.  I had to know more. So I decided to read up on it. Hence, I started reading that………

During the early years of the church, the body parts of holy people were highly prized and sought after for their healing powers, and brought fame and followers to any church that presented these body parts or even the clothing these people wore. Remember the man touching Jesus’  clothing and being healed?  So rich patrons and crusaders scoured the holy lands and returned with their riches to put them on display in their local churches.  Or perhaps a holy person died and was buried on the spot. Believers came to this site to pray.  A church was built. More people came.   The believing flock became the first tourists.  In those days the only reason to leave home was to go to war or go on pilgrimage.  Sometimes a penance of traveling to a particular holy place to pray, repent and receive forgiveness was given to the sinner. The penitent had a lot of time along the way to think things over.  The road was not easy. Some would be killed along the way and would never return to their homeland. The Holy Land was too far for most.  Rome was a good choice, centrally located, and the Way of St James or the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain was best for others. Most of the people could not read or write.  Story telling frescoes, awe inspiring churches rising to the heavens to meet God and the bodies of saints brought the people to the churches. My adventures to following the saints in books began with………

Sant Bartholomew

Sant Bartholomew

A Stolen Tongue by Sheri Holman, documents the travels and travails through the journals of Father Felix Fabri to find his spiritual mate Saint Katherine of Alexandria. Her  broken body parts are scattered in several churches and have gone missing.  He carries her dried up tongue in a pouch around his neck. He needs to find her. Need I say more?  Who would not want to know what happens along his path? I was hooked.

Over the years I have read  The Holy Feast and Holy Fast, Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women by Caroline Walker BynumHoly Holidays; the Catholic Origins of Celebration by Greg Tobin,  Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Anything by Michael P. Foley, Catholicism for Dummies by John Trigilio and Kenneth BrighentiThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and just about every book written about the Way of St James or El Camino de Santiago. I have studied the saints……. and their

Magnificent Corpses. This book written by Anneli Rufus is a travel book with a difference.  It encourages you to seek unheard of places contemplating on life and relics of life and what we regard as holy.  Anneli focuses not only on the saints, but on  the people who come to see them. She follows fifteen of the saints through Italy.  So what does this all mean?  If you build it and believe it,  they will come.  And we do. Abundantly.

Church, Milan, Italy

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

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