Here they are again. Frescos by Fra Angelica on the walls of the monk’s cells at the Convent of San Marco depicting the life of Christ. I’m too tired to write anything more, but no need. The pictures speak for themselves.
On Sunday I visited the five churches of the mendicant orders built at the end of the 13th century to accommodate the growing population in Florence. Unlike the monastic orders of the Benedictines, the mendicant friars of these orders established themselves within the fabric of city life, preaching and ministering to the burgeoning population.
A new development in city planning was the piazza in front of the church to accommodate the people and provide a stage for preaching. City walls were expanded to enlarge the city area to include these churches, which formed points on a circle, with the new cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore at the center.
Santa Maria Novella (Dominican)
Santa Croce (Franciscan)
Santissima Annunziata (Servite)
Santo Spirito (Augustinian)
Santa Maria del Carmine (Carmelite)
Santa Marie del Fiore (Cathedral)
Yesterday I took Bus #7 to Fiesoli and then climbed the hill to my favorite little convent in all of Italy. I’ve blogged about it before and undoubtedly I’ll blog about it again. In fact, I plan to return there next week before I leave for home.
My favorite is section is the floor housing eight monk’s cells. I spent quite a while there, staring into the little rooms, imagining myself living in one of them. It was a Holy moment. Then, while sitting in the church, it poured rain…and then it stopped. That too was a Holy moment. Finally, peering into the tiny cloisters was also Holy. For certain this visit was the most solitary and silent time I’ve had since arriving here.
The most holy time to visit Santa Maria dei Fiori (the Duomo) is early in the morning when, with prayerful intention you slip in the side door for Mass and prayer. Mass is said in one of the apses; the other two are available for prayer and mediation. Today the central one was filled with Easter flowers -- an aroma and visual feast to experience. No need to think: just be.
Today, April 25, is Liberation Day, a national holiday in Italy. It marks the fall of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic and the end of the Nazi occupation in Italy in 1945, towards the end of the second World War.
I tell you this because we must always remember, and because it was very crowded in Florence--tourists and Italians enjoying themselves. I walked up to San Miniato, stopping on my way at The Rose Garden and Piazza Michelangelo.
San Miniato is one of my favorite churches. It sits on the hill over looking the city. Unfortunately the extensive cemetery behind the church was closed, but I’ve posted pictures before and I plan to get up there again before I leave. For now, enjoy the church, this most prayerful spot.
I can’t believe that it’s been four days since I wrote. Being in Florence is such a God place for me, whether I walk the streets, wander about the Boboli Garden, or visit churches. My quest to live here for these two weeks continues, not as a tourist on the move, but as a person at home.
Wherever I live, I want to have a church, and so I have adopted Santa Trinita near my apartment. I prefer the quite times in the church, the times when Mass or the Rosary are not being said. I don’t mind the tourists walking around, for they are quiet, which is a good thing, for this 13th century Gothic church is well visited. There is something particularly comforting and spiritual about the space that visitors seem to sense. And then there is the Sassetta Chapel with frescoes by Ghirlandio depicting the life of St. Francis (1483-86) that attract many tourists.
My plan is to arrive at the church when it opens at 7 and remain in the quiet until mass commences at 7:30. I was a little late today, but I’m just getting into the routine. Just before mass began, a woman, in her 40s I’d say, walked up the aisle and around the altar talking and flailing her arms. The priest looked at her, smiled and held his hands in prayer; the woman sat down quietly for about five minutes. She then made a deep bow with hands raised, and left, talking just as she had entered.
Many thoughts went through my mind and heart. After saying a prayer, and concluding that I was safe, I considered what might be going on with this woman. How easy to assume that anyone who doesn’t follow the usual social boundaries is in some kind of trouble. But maybe she’s okay; maybe her biggest problem is that she doesn’t act within the social norms. I can’t judge but I can pray for peace for her.
I'm writing this on the plane to Florence after a busy Easter morning. It started with the sunrise service in our backyard with about twenty five people, including some kids. Oh, and three dogs. This was followed by a waffle breakfast at church. Easter service with all those ‘Christ the Lord has risen’ songs, and with everyone singing Mendelssohn’s Hallelujah Chorus, a tradition in my church,! Pastor Tom’s message was honest and simply: Easter helps us frame our sorrows and tragedies in hope.
When I arrive in Florence I’ll post this, probably just as is. Then I’ll enjoy a cappuccino, wander about and step into Santa Trinita and be grateful.
P.S. I meant to post this two days ago, but with the lack of sleep and excitement of being here, I forgot. So here it is. More later.
I remember Good Friday growing up. We had the day off from school and from 12 to 3 my UCC church held a vigil. Just watch. No music, no program, no words. Just sit and watch. I like to think that I remember staying for the entire time, but I’m not at all certain that I did. I like to think that my experience was very profound, but I’m not at all certain that it was.
After all, except for this Good Friday vigil, my church upbringing centered on Easter.
Today I still can’t get my mind around what this day means. I’ve stopped trying to figure out the theology of it all, but this year I am aware that my heart is responding. The most I am able to say, or want to say, is that I’m feeling some holy embrace for all the suffering in the world. Knowing Jesus suffered gives me hope.
I been thinking about the people who have experienced heartfelt tragedy and sadness during this past year. Are they glad that Lent is coming to an end? Is this Holy Week and the anticipation of Good Friday too much for them to bear? Are they afraid that they will feel no Easter joy, that they won’t be able to sing Hallelujah?
These are the people that I will put on my prayer list. Their hearts feel broken and they may fear that, like Humpty Dumpty, they are powerless. I can’t fix them, but I can send the salve of God’s peace, which sooths. God will put them back together again. Don’t ask me how this works. I just know that, with faith, it does.
I’ve agreed to set up one of the Stations of the Cross for the Good Friday service at my church. Focusing on Stations of the Cross is not particularly common to Protestant churches, and certainly to the UCC, but the incidents they represent aren’t. After all, they are in Scripture.
I have chosen station # 1 (according to the form my church is using): “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22:40-46. In the story Jesus asks his disciples to sit with him in his time of trial and to pray. But each time they fall asleep, and each time Jesus admonishes them.
In my station I am going to concentrate on Jesus’ words in Matthew 14:38:
Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’
How does this apply to my life? Is there someone I know that I can sit with, someone who is dying, or grieving deeply, or both? How can I stay awake with them? Can I be with them as a listener? Can I keep quiet and listen when they want to talk, and when they are silent?
I’m going to suggest that each visitor to the station think of a person they know, and in the week after Easter go sit with them and do their best to stay awake and listen.