From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 60
Corpus Domini 2006
I think I will tell Daria to go ahead and kill her rooster now. The lazy bird didn’t start crowing until 10:04 this morning, and had it not been for the tinny sounding recording of church bells ringing at 9:30 a.m., I would have overslept again. That damn rooster let me down again. I have scolded him and told him to get his lazy butt out of bed at least by 8:30 a.m. every morning and to start crowing, but that seldom happens. The church bells saved me.

The resonant tones of the bells in the campanile announce the passing of each 15 minutes, but are not used to announce Mass. Instead of bells sounding, a recording of rather tone-deaf bells is played on a loud speaker. A number of years ago the sound was so irritating and off key that I gave Father Francesco a donation to at least improve the sound system of the church. Now, although not the reverberating tone of real bells, I have gotten used to the improved recording and would probably miss it if it were someday replaced by real bells.

Today, June 18, 2006 is Corpus Domini, the day that the young Giovianini are confirmed in the ancient baptismal church of Santa Maria Assunta. This year the service would be in celebration of La Prima Santa Comunione (the First Communion) of Barbi Benedetta, Innocenti Francesca, and Rossi Filippo. The Italians have the habit of placing last names first and first names last.

To decorate the route the procession follows through town, antique handmade quilts and lace tablecloths are hung from the windows of the houses. Sue has taken our pots of geraniums from the upper loggia out to the street in front of the Palazzo. Our red flowers add color to the white lilies and greenery that have been attached at intervals along the walls of the houses. During the First Communion service, the entire village will file through the streets of the town, led by members of the Confraternita di San Rocco, founded in 1528 after a terrible epidemic of the Black Death.

I ran over to the church, camera in hand, to check on the progress of the service which had begun with the poem, “Sono Strade” (I Am the Roads).

Questa terra è piena di cose This land is full of things
Che tanti uomini possono avere That so many men can have
Sono strade sulle quali cammino, I am the roads to walk on
Sono frutti che posso mangiare I am the fruit to eat
Sono fiori che hanno un colore I am the flowers that have color
El il lor profumo mi fa innamorare. And their fragrance makes me fall in love.
Sono voci canzoni poesie, I am voices, songs, poetry,
Sono gioie lamenti e silenzi, I am joy, sorrow and silence,
Sono uomini donne e bambini, I am men, women and children,
Sono sguardi di vivi cho posso incontrare. I am the glances at life that they can find.
C’e una terra fatta di cose There is a land made of things
Che ancora pochi sanno vedere: That yet few know how to see:
Sono strade sospese nell’aria, I am the roads suspended in the air
Sono frutti di un altro sapore I am the fruit of a different flavor
Sono fiori sbocciati per sempre, I am the flowers that bloom forever,
Perche come fiori han saputo morir Because like flowers, I know how to die.
Sono voci, canzoni, poesie,
. I am voices, songs, poetry,
Che tu senti se in te c’e il silenzio, That you feel when there is silence,
Sono anime che sanno di I breathed life into them so they can speak
Per chi sa ascoltare parole piu vere. To those who listen to the most true words.

The men of the Confraternita were all dressed in their traditional green robes. They were busily gathering and preparing the 15th-century crucifix, the processional banner, and the other sanctified items that they would hold high while leading the procession through the streets of the village and then back into the church for the final rites, prayers, and songs.

Out they marched, and down the front steps heading toward Palazzo Margherita where Sue had been waiting for me to return the camera to her so that she could have steady shots from the tripod. Too late. The passageway was blocked by the procession. I ran back around the church and around the castle walls. I was just in time to photograph the procession as it passed through the narrows between the high walls of the Palazzo and the higher walls of the houses built into the ruins of the castle.

Fortunately, Gioviano is built in concentric circles around the perimeter of the ancient castle, so it was possible for me to run back around the town in time to photograph the procession as it returned to the church. Within the church, there is a beautiful statue of a Madonna breast-feeding the baby Jesus. The statue of Mary holding baby Jesus was graced with a huge bouquet, and hundreds of flowers bedecked the altar. Looking up at the ceiling I saw the frescoes of Santa Maria Assunta, San Vincintus a Paolo, San Sebastianus, Santa Barbara, Santa Lucia, San Aloysius, San Benedectus and Vir Ivstus, staring down at the congregation.

There was a medieval air to the event with the smell of incense, the candles, the fragrances of the flowers, the voices of the choir, the incantations of the priest, the ancient holy relics of past centuries, along with the robes of the priest and of the Confraternita. At the end of the service, Benedetta’s father, Ricardo, led the singing playing a electric guitar, which was the only object that indicated that I was not in a bygone era. The song was lively and not at all medieval. The congregation began to clap in time to the music as the tempo grew faster and the volume of the voices grew louder. Even Father Francesco got into the swing of things and began to clap and almost dance.

After the service, I visited with Father Francesco, who I have declared to be an Ethician Santo Vivo (Living Saint). He seemed delighted to see me and immediately asked about my parents. I said, “Invece di fare il suo prossimo pelligrinaggio a Lourdes, o Fatima, o Santiago de Compostella, fare uno in Texas per visitare la nostra Cappella de la Natività.” (“Instead of making your next pilgrimage to Lourdes, or Fatima or Santiago de Compostella, make one to Texas to visit our Chapel of the Nativity.”)

Francesco responded that his pilgrimages are almost always to the forests, streams, and mountains where he feels closest to God. I told him that our Ethician Sunset Services are almost always held in the wilderness and that I fully understood why he preferred the beauties of Creation as the destination of his pilgrimages. This leads me to a very funny story about Francesco and his wilderness retreat.

Francesco, just like Jesus and his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, had chaste women followers. In years past, we have ventured into the mountains to the retreat where Francesco goes when he feels the need to be alone in the wilderness. There is an ancient stone house there where the women stay to cook for the priest. The women also go into the mountain forests nearby to pray.

Francesco’s tent is some distance from the house but not too isolated from the kitchen. (Italian priests like to be well fed while “fasting” in the wilderness.) I asked the good Father, “Padre Francesco, cosa direbba se una bella donna venisse una notte nella sua tenda? “ (“Father Francesco, what would you say if a beautiful woman would come one night to your tent?”)

Without thinking he raised his right arm and pointed his finger while loudly vocalizing a single word, “Via!” (“Go away!”)

On his way to the parking lot, Francesco stopped by the Palazzo to greet Sue and to once again express his words of blessing to Margherita and Canneto, back in Texas. If there ever was an ideal village priest, Francesco would be the model to go by.

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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