Sunday, March 30, 2008

San Gimignano - 5th Day (03/05/08)

We arise not to the warm Tuscan sun, but to the windy, chilly, rain of the early Tuscan spring. We even saw snow falling as we walked down to breakfast!! Perhaps partly because of the weather, our fellow Pilgrim Will found himself under the weather.

The morning brought what was the highlight for many of the pellegrini: the tour of the Chiesa of Sant’ Agostino, adjacent to the Convento Di Sant’ Agostino - the home of the famous Gozzoli Frescos, depicting the life of Augustine. Our gracious host, Fr. Brian, took us on a fascinating tour of the church, with its history and artwork. Its simplicity felt “of God,” and Fr. Brian’s passion for this holy place was shown through everything he said. The most inspiring part of the tour (and church) for these writers were the famous Gozzoli frescos depicting the life of St. Augustine.

The seventeen panels touched us each in a different way, I suspect. Augustine is often depicted multiple times in each panel. At first we see the restlessness of his heart in his face, until he hears the words “Tolle Lege” in the garden, reads the words of St. Paul, and finally rests in the Lord. He is freed from the turmoil of his youth and is able to embrace God, as he calls each of us to do as well. The rest of his life is spent trying to open the word of God, and bring God, to the people. Wanting to share this moment, artwork, and fuller sense of Augustine with his students, Immer has created a web site that highlights many of the panels combined with stories of Augustine’s life, found in the Confessions.

As we heard about the restoration process, we were astonished to discover that many of these great works of art were simply covered over for something "better." Mixed among these ancient treasures are now a modernistic sculpture, iron work and the main altar designed by Fr. Brian with the resident sculptor.

Before our exploration of San Gimignano continued, we were treated to a magnificent lunch prepared by Sant’ Agostino’s own Loretta. This dear woman, who discloses no recipes, can prepare a meal as scrumptious as any on the planet (in this writer’s humble opinion). We tried to see if she could fit in one of our suitcases, but apparently she is quite content continuing her life in Italy and living in Piazza Sant’ Agostino.

As we ventured out after our feast, at least some of us looked like we were wearing every article of clothing that we had packed to stay warm. We started as a group at the Duomo in the -- go figure -- Piazza del Duomo.

Again the frescoes take our breath away; one side of the church has floor to ceiling paintings depicting the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the other side has the stories of the New Testament including a beautiful fresco of the Last Supper. In the rear of the church are visions of heaven and hell, saints and sinners, facing each, with another of Gozzoli’s work showing St. Sebastian (complete with arrows, ouch!). We couldn’t help but wonder whether this church with these frescoes rivals in its own way the glories of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

The rest of the afternoon, people dispersed and followed their own interests. No doubt some enjoyed the “best gelato in the universe,” despite the chilly temperature, some walked the perimeter of this walled city, some climbed the towers for which this town is famous. Cappuccino, souvenirs, shopping, meditating, prayer, Mass, walking were all part of the afternoon. We had “dinner on our own” where we variously enjoyed Italian pizza and cuisine with, of course, some Chianti to embrace fully the Italian culture.

Thanks to pilgrims Kathy and Immer for providing this record of the fifth and rainy day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.

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