Following Pilgrim Trails in Rome

On Wednesday morning, May 1, our small group of Pilgrims, guided by Giuseppe and Herta, traveled by the #62 bus from the convent of Caterina di Volpicelli to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where we were greeted by Alberto and his wife and Giancarlo and his wife Norma, and other members of the Gruppo Dei Dodici. There we presented our credentials at the Pilgrim Office and received certificates for completing the walk.

Pilgrims with certificates

Afterwards we attended the audience with Pope Frances, along with a few thousand others, and then dispersed, our pilgrimage over.

Today, Kent and I followed pilgrim trails through Rome. We’d tried to visit San Giovanni Lateran yesterday, but found the entire plaza blocked by a huge, super-loud May Day rock concert and swarms of young people.

We had more success today visiting this oldest church in Rome dating from 312. I recalled the story that Pope Innocent had a dream that the Lateran was crumbling, but saved from collapse by one man. When St. Francis came before him shortly after to plead approval for his order, Innocent saw in him salvation (and reform) for the church as a whole, and gave approval to the founding of the Franciscan Order.

Marks on the pilgrim trail.

From San Giovanni Lateran, we headed to San Clemente, which was closed for lunch. We had lunch, too, nearby, then visited the Basilica created from the Baths of Diocletian, before returning to San Clemente, with its multi-layered history of two churches built over a temple to Mithras. Our entire day was devoted to the many layers of Roman church history, from early days of persecution to the creation of a powerful church and continuing reforms.

Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco—the influence of the church and its saints has spread far from Rome.

San Giovanni Lateran

Roma tonight!

Our pilgrimage will officially end tomorrow in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, but today will take us into Rome, on what will be our longest walk yet: 26 km.

It has been an amazing and sometimes exhausting two weeks. Every day has held surprises, new experiences, and new challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me has been letting go of expectations and control. Explanations of what each day was to hold were seldom forthcoming, and translation of Italian conversations were not always available. I am unaccustomed to following a pace other than my own. Nevertheless we have been a congenial and joyful group, and our leaders, Giuseppe and GianCarlo, have been enthusiastic and hard-working to make everything happen, making often-complicated arrangements for food, lodging, transportation, and visits to important sites.

A few photos from these last days:

Strawberry Shortcake in Sezze
Goat en route
Evening at Valvisciolo Abbey
valvisciolo Cloister 23th c
Procession in Giulianello

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Mountain Trails: Days 8 and 9 (April 25-26, 2019)

Yesterday morning just four of us, set off from Victoria Domus B&B high on a hill on the outskirts of Priverno. The remaining two German walkers were returning home, and Torill and Herta were suffering injuries. Ned, Kent, Sylva and I, under Giuseppe’s careful leadership, descended to the edge of Priverno, getting a good look at the hill-top city as we walked. Giuseppe pointed to hills in the distance. “That’s where we’re going. There will be a 4 km climb.” One of the hills was topped by tall antennas.

The day was hot, and we stopped in the shade of trees and walls now and then. Giuseppe pointed out his home high on an olive covered slope. We followed small roads along canals lined with yellow and purple flowers.

Blue and yellow flowers along a canal on the way to Sezze
Tough climb to Sezze

Eventually, after quite a climb on roads we embarked on a path that grew increasingly steep and rough. Then we came to another road, a descent and then another path up, this one not so long, but steeper and tougher, with views out over flat agricultural land that had been reclaimed from marshland. a stumble here could have sent one rolling over limestone rocks and scrubby brush with little to stop one for a very long way.

A cool breeze on the high slopes mitigated the heat, but the air remained too misty to see the sea and distant islands. It was not long after our picnic lunch that we scrambled up one more rough track to find ourselves at the edge of Sezze and just a few houses along the road at the most delightful B &B of the trip.

Kent and I retreated to our room and after showering pulled a comforter over us and fell asleep for at least 3 hours. There was no wifi, so I had no distractions.

That evening our hostess Alma prepared a wonderful dinner of lentil soup, veal cutlet, mounds of artichokes braised in olive oil, a delicious green salad and delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert.

I had no trouble sleeping another 8 hours that night.

Well rested, we set out from Sezze this morning, with several new Italians accompanying us, under the leadership of Giancarlo. After a brief stop to buy sandwiches for lunch, and a tour of the local archaeological museum where we were offered cakes and sodas, we exited the charming medieval town and climbed ever upward.

Eventually we reached tracks through meadows with grazing cows, more mountain road, and then a lovely track that led through trees — some of the most untouched vegetation we have seen on this route. We also encountered a few other pilgrims today, all heading south from Rome.

As we neared the top of one long ascent, “Salida!” Giancarlo encouraged me, as I was, as usual the slowest one on the ascents. Then one more climb and we heard shouts of “Restaurante!” And there amidst a flock of goats we found picnic tables where we had our lunch.

Down again, we could see another hill town — Sermonetta— with a castle and swarms of tourists. We also encountered a group of 5 walkers, heading south, but apparently not taking our mountain paths. A welcome stop for beer, but I was dismayed to learn we still had a long 4-5 km and 2-21/2 hours yet to go to this abbey outside of town in lower Norma.

We could see it in the distance from the second of two wildly overgrown, steep, rocky descents we made this afternoon.

It seemed we’d never get here, but after many ups and downs we were here sometime after 4 pm. Made our beds, showered, and will rest until supper at 7:45 pm.

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Walking with the Gruppo dei Dodici—-April 20-24

Ancient Roman Port near Scauri

We have walked through beautiful scenery from hills to the seaside, and had some wonderful cultural experiences, but almost no time for sleeping or writing.

So what follows is a too short summary of recent days on the Via Francigena of the South.

Donna and Ned presented a Kei and Molly textile from Albuquerque to a helpful nun

It is hard to sort out the days. As so much has been crammed into them. Following the moving procession on Good Friday evening in Sessa, we had a jolly, simple meal of pizza together, then a long walk in the dark, past barking dogs and under a full moon to our lovely lodgings at the Convent of Santa Caterina di Volpicelli.

We have been treated as celebrities, greeted by mayors, treated to an extravagant lunch at a daycare center, and accompanied into Terracina by musicians playing ancient pilgrim music on réplicas of antique instruments. We’ve also been given talks on an important early suspension bridge, the largest and best-preserved Roman cistern dating from the time of Julius Caesar, and an ancient fort in Terracina.

We’ve had fabulous meals and walked through sites important in both ancient and modern history. There is too much to see, and too little time as we make our way through southern Italy on our pilgrimage to Rome.

Three bridges
Cistern in Formis
Our leader Giuseppe Pucci with musicians in Terracina
Walking toward the Fossanova Abbey on April 24
Antipasto tonight

Today, April 24, we have reached our halfway-point.

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube

Walking through Flowers

We have completed our first two days of walking our pilgrimage to Rome with the Gruppo di Dei Dodici. The Gruppo is an all-volunteer group devoted to maintaining, developing and promoting the southern branch of the Via Francigena, of which the better-known part stretches from Canterbury to Rome. This section goes both ways from Rome to Brindisi, from where pilgrims could cross the Mediterranean to reach Jerusalem, or travel from the south of Italy to Rome, as we are doing now.

Our first day from Teano involved a very long climb during the first half of the day, then at least one very steep descent and ascent at the end of the day. I was overjoyed when we reached the lovely town of Sessa, only to grow weary as we passed through the town, climbing higher still and then winding down for another kilometer to the Convent of Caterina Volpicelli on the outskirts. That was truly the longest mile.

During the day we stopped briefly to rest and eat sandwiches on park benches in lovely old villages.

Last night we returned to Sessa where we witnessed a moving Good Friday procession.

The Pilgrimage Begins: April 17, Teano

After spending Monday exploring Pompeii along with thousands of other visitors, including energetic busloads of students, Tuesday exploring numerous churches and nooks and crannies of the Centro Storico and attending a fabulous opening night performance of Madama Butterfly at the Teatro San Carlo, and Wednesday morning walking along the rather unremarkable waterfront to Mergellina, we were met at the train station Formia-Gaeta on Wednesday afternoon.

There we were greeted by Giuseppe, Maurzio, Paolo, and several other members of our group, including Ned and Donna from Albuquerque, Silva and Terje from Norway, and Herta from Germany.

View of Teano from our window this morning

After a bit of a drive to Teano, a stop at an ATM machine and a phone store, we ended up in the country at Agritorismo Farm Mattera di Valle., with a view to Teano on its hill in the distance.

Kent and I were given a very chilly large room with a large bed. Later we all gathered for a huge Italian dinner, beginning with antipasto, then pasta, then meat and potato, followed by cake and grappa. We begin walking on the Morning of April 18. “On the 18th of April in ‘75/ hardly a man is now alive/ who remembers that fateful day and year/ of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

Oldest amphitheater in Italy in Teano
Kent in Teano
Flowers along the way
Overgrown bridge

April 18, Sessa

It looks like nights 2 and 3 with no wifi, unless we make a long trek uphill into town. So I will just keep writing, hoping that one of these days we will have wifi, and I can publish.

We have finished our first day of walking, through some beautiful countryside and lovely old towns. However, we were promised this would be a short, easy day. It was not. Fourteen easy kilometers—should not be hard. Right? Wrong. We made some steep, long climbs up in the first two hours before lunch, and several more ups and downs and then a Long walk through this lovely hill town, without much chance to see anything.

We are now returned from a lovely dinner in the town, and it is too late to keep writing. We will be back here again tomorrow. Good news is finally having a wifi connection. Bad news is it works only in a chilly front lobby. Good news is we’ve had the best shower here we’ve had since leaving home.

I’ll try to write more tomorrow, after our Good Friday walk.

On the way to Sessa
Dog at water fountain

Rome, April 12 Friday

We arrived in Rome a bit late on Thursday night, flying low over brilliant green fields and scattered farms and villages. By the time we reached the Termini (central railway station) via the Leonardo Express, it was dark and raining. It would have been a perfect occasion for a taxi, but 75 to 100 people stood in the taxi queue.

So putting on our rain jackets we set out with the printed map I’d downloaded from Google. I had also noted all the street names and turns and written them in my little notebook, not so useful since street signs were rare. Nevertheless, we found our way without mishap until we walked right past the door of Veneto Relais, which we found upon turning back (no lighted sign outside). We pushed open a garage door, and then another that took us up 6 flights of stairs. We saw an elevator door, but it was locked, so wearing our backpacks we trudged ever upward, hoping that somewhere up above we’d find a human to let us in.

We had written in advance that we would probably be later than their 8 pm closing, and we were nearly an hour past that. But, Francisco was waiting for us. Hurrah! He showed us around, gave us door codes and an electronic key. Had we only paid more attention, we would have discovered the elevator was operable from 1 floor up.

After a lovely dinner at Fuocolento, a cozy place we’d passed on the street, Kent promptly fell asleep, while I washed some clothes and spent 10 minutes trying to turn on the fancy shower that had rainbow hues of lights playing overhead, a whole row of square sprayers on the wall, a hand sprayer, and an overhead rain shower, plus two metal squares that were obviously supposed to do something. Turning them did nothing, and they did not push or pull, but finally I was able to push in the bottom of one — and voila! There was water! The other square, logically enough, rotated to direct the water up, down, and to one side. So at last all was well, except for the very slippery floor, which, fortunately, led to no mishaps.

We woke to a glorious, sunny morning after last night’s rain, and we had a wonderful walk to the Piazza Del Popolo, first stopping at Santa Maria della Victoria where I was thrilled to finally see in person the Bernini statue of St Teresa in Ecstasy that I’d first encountered as an undergraduate in an art history course. We then made our way to fountains on four corners, the Spanish steps and the Piazza del Popolo, a grand space with fountains, churches, and young opera singers performing for tips.

We had a very brief look at Santa Maria Del Popolo before being shooed out at the 12:30 closing. Heading back along the pedestrian Via Corso, we detoured around the mausoleum of Augustus Caesar, which is undergoing restoration, took a look at the Tiber. Then we got lost trying to find the Trevi Fountain. Once we did find it, we didn’t linger as the piazza was jammed with people. Plus, we didn’t have any coins left to throw, as we had given them to the opera singers. We promptly got lost, again, despite having 2 maps, and ended up taking quite a long walk, before we arrived at the four fountains once again. From there then knew the way back to the hotel.

The neighborhood surrounding the hotel has interesting restaurants, a cheese shop, and a gelato shop. We found a busy “stand up and eat” pizza shop Pinsere Pizza that was doing brisk business,. A shared small pizza would tide us over until dinner time Our hotel room is low down in the building, so I’m not getting internet in the room. We are also at the bottom of a deep courtyard, so there is not much light. I suspect paying a bit more for a better room would have been worthwhile.

After Kent napped and I worked on pictures, we headed out to see St. Mary Major Church. By then sunshine had turned to rain, and we found the church not only closed, but barricaded and guarded by soldiers. Open at 7 am they told us.

In 1991, Ed and I and the two children had visited Santa Maria Maggiore on Palm Sunday, encountering a parade of Red-robed Cardinals en route, which is probably why the church is being guarded this weekend. It was just an accident that we had been there that morning, having just gotten off an overnight train from Munich, and headed toward the Coliseum. However, Ed had recognized the important church, and we made a quick visit. There were no lines or bag and body searches in those pre 9/11 days.

Thwarted by our attempt to get into Maria Maggiore, Kent and I searched for another nearby church, which we didn’t find. However, we did find San Antonio, a Russian Catholic Church, where a mass was in progress. There were only a few people, but there was an amazing male choir singing liturgical chants that reverberated in the light, bright, icon-covered space. Doors and curtains were opened and closed between the altar and the pews before and after the Eucharist. After the Eucharist people lined up to kiss a silver cross held by a priest garbed in maroon and gold robes. Some also kissed an icon that held a prominent place at the front of the main aisle. It was mysterious and beautiful. I didn’t dare join the queue as I had no idea what was happening.