Around Umbria

Last week before we left for SFO, we spent some time in the towns around Spello: Montefalco and Bevagna.

Sunday after mass at the Chiesa San Lorenzo we returned to Montefalco (where we had lunch on Friday) but this time outside of town to the Scacciadiavoli Open House, part of a regional Cantine Aperte of wineries around Montefalco. We shared a vertical wine tasting of Montefalco Rosso with three couples we met a few days earlier in Spello from Oregon and Kentucky.
Since there was free wine, food and a jazz concert, the crowds grew as the day went on. We needed a break so we walked outside to the family chapel on the grounds. It was shaded and quiet, so we prayed our prayer book, went outside, laid down and closed our eyes for an hour or so. We walked down the two lane road with parking on both sides for half a mile, dodging cars and mopeds, buses. We bought coffee and treats at a local café (inundated with what had to be a record number of customers) and returned to the winery with a new perspective. This time we found a table in the shade and watched the people. We learned something there about Italian culture. No personal space, no lines for food--it was a little too much for us. We had to take a break, because free for all is not as fun for us rule-keeping, stay-in-line, get-out-of-my-personal-space Americans. What seemed chaotic to us was normal for them. Everyone was having a great time at what was definitely the place to be in Umbria that Sunday.
We stayed till the jazz concert started then made our way out. We called our taxi driver then realized because of the traffic he wouldn't be able to reach us, so we began walking toward Foligno. We phoned him again, told him "Nui andiamo a piedi cerca a ti, perche molto traffico" (which I hope meant, "because there is so much traffic we are going to walk toward you"); he got it and we continued to walk past all the cars that didn't know they had an hour or more of traffic ahead of them. The driver found us and drove us back to Spello. The whole day cost us 90 euro in taxi fares, but we go home safe, had an adventure and learned something about being in the moment.
Sunday night the three couples from Oregon and Kentucky invited us to dinner and wine tasting at the enoteca. It turned out to be a magical night. We learned more about their friendships (two of the men were friends years ago at Amherst College) and their travels together. Coleman from Kentucky played Roberto's la chitarra (which was missing a string and out of tune), and sang two of his original songs. Who would have guessed he wrote a country song about Lorenzo de Medici and Brunelleschi building the Duomo in Florence? We shared about our ministry in Solana Beach; turns out they were Episcopalians from Oregon and Presbyterians from Kentucky.

Monday afternoon we welcomed Chuck and Diane Phillips (who connected us originally with Spello) and family. A few of us went into the nearby Chiesa Sant'Andrea, the church built in the 1250s in honor of Saint Francis' friend Andrea from Spello, whose body is encased in the transept altar. I love the worn marble floor, painted gothic ceilings, frescoes--including one by Pinturicchio, the wooden choir and hanging cross from the school of Giotto. It's as original as can be from the 13th century, unlike other medieval churches which were remodeled in baroque during the Counter Reformation in gold and plastered over arches and ceilings. After the evening mass a choir was rehearsing for the Corpus Domini festival. Just to hear them practice was beautiful. Close your eyes and you can hear voices like these echoing through the centuries.

After dinner around 10:30 Amy and I walked down the piazza to catch the Corpus Domini procession coming up into town with the bishop of Perugia, men and women in liturgical white robes carrying candles, a marching band from Spello and the life size Virgin Mary carried on poles by four men. She came into the church in all her splendor and received about 10 minutes of praise in responsive song. The bishop blessed with incense and said a few words of greeting. The band played a few songs for the packed church, and many went forward to touch her toe and receive a blessing. As someone told us, in Italy it's as if Madonna is above Jesus and God the Father; there is great reverence for the Virgin Mother of God as the Queen of martyrs, apostles and heaven.

Tuesday we visited the quaint town of Bevagna, on the road between Folignio and Montefalco, which has roman history (theatre ruins, recently found mosaic floors, and a roman home) and medieval churches (two on the Piazza San Silvestro) and is small enough to visit in a few hours. Some of the medieval churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries are virtually untouched, and feature simple columns, vaulted ceilings and fading frescoes. The St. Michael the Archangel Church has great detail around the arches depicting Satan being defeated with the sword by Michael. The columns are also beautifully carved with detail in the church across the courtyard.

Amy and I walked downstairs to the crypt of San Silvestro Church, which lies about 12 feet below the raised chancel. The crypt had the same simple roman columns with skinny windows and a simple marble altar. Alone in the crypt with the book set next to a cross set in the marble top we prayed our prayer book. Simple, old, quiet, reverent--a great prelude to the next day of travel to San Francisco.


  1. Mike, you paint incredibly detailed and beautiful pictures. I think I can smell the scents of Italy through your writing! Thank you for this gift today!


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