Thursday, March 29, 2012


I spent a full day in Assisi, walking up hills and down hills. There was a wonderful sense of adventure as the streets have small alleys branching off and interconnecting with other streets. There was a continuous feeling of discovery as I wandered around bends, hiked up steps and wound through narrow streets. Assisi is on the side of a large hill, so it obviously slopes downhill, but it also goes downhill on the opposite plane, making for a lot of inclines and steps! It is really amazing to see the various Roman arches that indicate where the city walls were and where expansion took place. One road shows three expansions, a very early arch, one from an expansion in 1265 and another from 1316.

It wasn't very crowded today, so I really got a great feel for the place in a quiet atmosphere. I saw the Rocca Minore and the Rocca Maggiore, both medieval fortresses. I toured the inside of the large fortress, which was historically and architecturally intriguing. It also provided an excellent view, since it is on the top of the hill that Assisi is situated on. I spent a good amount of time at the cemetery just outside the city walls. It was a contemplative place with abundant artwork and a beautiful view. It didn't have the forsaken feel of so many other cemeteries, the dead were not forgotten with the scent of fresh flowers by numerous graves, old and new.
I visited many churches today, but the church I enjoyed most was St. Stephano. It is one of the oldest churches in Assisi and was built very plainly by stonemasons. It was the most unadorned basic church I had been in so far, but there was something about the beauty of the sparse space, with only a few faded frescos and low lighting, which provided dramatic shadows.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eremo delle Carceri

Perhaps my favorite place yet is the area around St. Francis' hermitage, the Eremo Della Carceri. On Mt. Subascio there is a cave or grotto where St. Francis would withdraw to pray and contemplate. (Carceri means "to withdraw"). To get there, you go through a tiny 15th century oratory connected to a small chapel area, the Cappella Della Madonna. There is one fresco in each area, which you can stand very near to and focus on. These intimate spaces provided a deeply thin place for me. I am still pondering the oratory and chapel, as to why it felt so different. Perhaps because of its close proximity with nature, intimate spaces, fewer crowds, the history surrounding it, or a mixture of them all. I know there is no formula for thin places, but I am still left with a sense of wonder.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Arte Studio Ginestrellle

I arrived at Arte Studio Ginestrelle yesterday. It is a 19th century farmhouse that originally
housed animals in the lower level. Today, the lower level is made up of three different kitchens and a large communal space for the artists in residence. The house is very charming and has a real sense of history that seems to invite discovery in and around it.

Last night I had dinner with Marina, the director, Jo, a visual artist from Alaska, and Tommie, a writer from Finland. We had a lot of fun chatting about cultural differences, from food to how to call a cat or other animals, to traditions that accompany different holidays. We laughed a lot at some of the random things we discovered.

Today was my first full day in the town of Assisi. Apart from the masses of the Italian version of girl scouts, wearing monks clothes and lady bug beenie hats, that swarmed around in the earlier part of the day, it was easy to maneuver. Though no photography is allowed in most churches, I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences within.

Some of the pigments in the frescos in the Basilica of Saint Francis have oxidized, actually giving it an inverted look that plays with your perspective. I sat in a side chapel in the lower church during mass and was deeply moved by it. (The lower church is the older part over which a grander basilica was built and frescoed by Giotto, was awesome to see both levels of frescoes!!) When the priest sang, it was so beautiful, perhaps because I have not experienced mass before or perhaps because I did not focus on the words, since I don't understand Italian very well...regardless, this was a thin place for me filled with pure beauty, both audible and visual with the frescoes all around. I think Lent is a perfect time to explore art in Italy, there is a heightened sensitivity to the imagery.

In the Basilica of St. Clare, there was a misty haze from the incense that glowed in the late afternoon sun coming through the rose window. Again, a thin place for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Off to Italy-Arrivederci!

I take off for Italy today! Thank you all for the well wishes! I will try to regularly post here to keep you updated on my progress and adventures!