October 29, 2013

Byzantine Splendor and Franciscan Hills

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.” Leonardo da Vinci
Carol writes: 
RAVENNA:  As we left Venice, we headed south along the Adriatic coast to Ravenna.  Our home for the night was a free city/church parking lot that was also nicely set up with a dump station and fresh water for RV travelers.  We have sure come to appreciate these ‘gratis’ overnight facilities.

The next day we took a short bus ride into Ravenna.  We found little to admire as we walked along Ravenna’s gritty, workaday streets.  However, the city street scene wasn’t why we decided to visit Ravenna; it was all about five sites that were said to contain the world’s most lavish collection of 5th and 6th century West Byzantine mosaics.

The five sites we visited were:

·      The Chapel of St. Andrea in the Archiepiscopal Museum

·      The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, long past its heyday in many ways, except for its frescos


·      The Neonian Baptistry, one of the oldest monuments in Ravenna, dating back to the 4th or 5th century

·      The Mausoleum of Galla Placida, a 5th century tomb built for a wealthy family that was never buried there.  The mosaic starry sky of brilliant blue was fresh and dazzling.


and the most exquisite, by far…

·      The Basilica di San Vitale


This 1400-year-old church was a jewel box of colored glass mosaics.  From my point of view as a quilter, who is always looking for new quilt patterns and designs, the floor was a delightful quilt book in stone.  It should not surprise me---yet it still does—that the classic quilt block designs that I have come to know so well are found in design patterns that must have originated centuries ago—at least as far back as Greek and Roman times.

In quilting jargon, the triangles that are touching point-to-base in the stone floor border area in the picture below are called “flying geese,” a quilt border design I have used several times in my quilts.

Well done, Ravenna!

ASSISI:  It was a short half-day drive from Ravenna to the town of Assisi.  We selected a campsite which was located in the valley floor below sun-washed Assisi perched on the hillside above. 

Perhaps one of the most beloved and well-known saints in the entire Catholic pantheon of saints is St. Francis of Assisi.  Yes, Assisi is a lovely Italian hill town, but its claim to fame is the religious connection with St. Francis of Assisi, and I would venture to say that is the reason for the majority of tourist/pilgrim visits.  St Francis was born in Assisi into a family of lucrative cloth merchants, but after his unfortunate war experience fighting the Perugians, he suddenly became unhappy with his life and fled as a young man to the neighboring hills where he subsequently led a pious and holy life.  Somewhat lost in the giant shadow of St. Francis was the gentle St. Clare, founder of an order of nuns called the Poor Clares.   St. Clare was born in Assisi a few years after St. Francis, and both saints were baptized at the same baptismal font in the Cathedral of St. Rufino,

and each now has an impressive basilica in Assisi that is dedicated in their honor.  The Basilica of St. Clare

housed the tomb of St. Clare but was not near as grand as the one dedicated to St. Francis, but its style was appropriate in acknowledging the simple, contemplative way of life of the Poor Clares.

The Basilica of St. Francis, dating back to the 13th century, was a worthy Catholic pilgrimage site. 


The tourist pathway through the basilica complex followed the same route that was taken by pilgrims centuries ago.  Our path started at a solemn chapel area that housed the tomb of St. Francis.  Fabulous frescos adorned the walls of the lower basilica, but it was a wonderful series of 28 large frescos depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis that was the crowd pleaser in the upper basilica.

A simple shrubbery sculpture in the shape of the Greek letter “tau” graced the grassy area outside the exit door.


St. Francis was known to have used the cross-shaped “tau,” the last letter of the Greek alphabet, as his abbreviated signature, signifying faithfulness to the end.

We couldn’t help but remark how clean and well preserved Assisi’s homes and public buildings appeared.  And some of them dated back to the 14th century! 


Franciscan brothers and priests, in addition to nuns in religious habits, were common sites as we strolled through the streets. We noticed several posters in town that advertised a papal visit to Assisi for the following weekend.  How proud the citizens of Assisi must have been when the current Pope, the first Jesuit ever elected Pope, took the name of Francis I. 

It was easy to admire the holy life and non-materialistic ideals of St. Francis, but what appealed to us most was the love that St. Francis had for the natural world and its creatures.  He was an environmentalist way ahead of his time… 

Whether Catholic by religion or just a Citizen of Earth, there was a fundamental philosophy to be admired in three lines of the prayer commonly associated with St. Francis: 


…Praise for Brother Sun, who brings the day.  His radiance                                                                         reminds us of you!

Praise for Sister Moon and the stars, precious and beautiful…

Praise for our sister, Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us…

                                           --St. Francis of Assisi




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