Today began a two-day excursion through the Italian countryside to visit two holy places in the next two days: Siena and Assisi. So, by 8:30 a.m. this morning, we managed to fit our two Deacons, Msgr. Osborn and me into a regular size car with our friend Giuseppe (who had picked us up at the airport and will take us back on Tuesday) to be our driver and companion for these two days. Talk about togetherness! With Msgr. Osborn and Giuseppe in the front as the driver and navigator, I got to spend some good quality time with Deacon Max and Deacon Jeff on the first leg of our trip, a four-hour drive from Rome to Siena.
With one stop along the way for coffee (for which we were grateful) and to stretch our legs (for which we were even more grateful), we arrived in Siena around 12:30 p.m. We had two sights in mind for Siena: the Duomo/Cathedral Church for Siena, and of course the Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena. So our first stop was the Duomo.
This magnificent church is an amazing work of architecture It's exterior facade and tower is incredible and covered with hundreds of sculptures and multiple ceramic depictions of events in the life of our Blessed Mother. Upon entering the Cathedral, it is massive, with a unique style of black and white striping on the walls and floors which seems unique to that area. However every other space is filled with artistic reliefs, paintings and ceramic depictions of moments of faith. The main altar of course is beautiful and the ambo is absolutely massive and beautiful---unfortunately it is under renovation and therefore was boarded up; but from the pictures of what it will be restored to are truly amazing.
After perusing the beautiful gift shop next to the Cathedral, we were ready for some lunch (pronzo) which provided me with my 6th bowl of pasta for these six days; it was very delicious. Since by then it was approaching 3:00 p.m. and our appointed time to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena, we made our way there.
The Basilica is far less impressive on the outside; but the inside is very beautiful. While there appears there has been some attempt to "update" the interior with new stained glass that is, shall we say, "interesting", much of the rest of the interior of the Basilica is the original style from the Middle Ages. As we know St. Catherine lived on 33 years in this world (1347-1380), and was a Dominican. However she was brilliant and had amazing influence on the directions of the Church at that time through her direct and strong "counsel" she provided to several of the Popes. Since she died in Rome, her body was buried in Rome, but her head was taken back to Siena where it is preserved, and for the most part remains incorrupt, in one of the chapels in the Basilica. It was at that Chapel that we were privileged to celebrate our Mass at 3:00 p.m., and our Deacon Max preached a beautiful homily on the Transfiguration, the Gospel passage of the day.
As we had done at St. Catherine's burial place in one of the churches in Rome, here in Siena we also took time at the Mass we celebrated to pray for the priests and people of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in our Diocese, with particular prayers for Father Bruno Okoli.
Refreshed both spiritually and physically, we then began our 90-minute drive to Assisi. As we got there and began our ascent to the old city on the top of the mountain, it was just turning dusk and moving into darkness. Seeing this ancient city from below, so beautifully lighted, was inspiring. After some failed attempts, we found the Bed and Breakfast where we are staying provided by the Sisters of St. Bridget. As soon as we found our rooms, and some freshening up, we departed again to a great restaurant back at the bottom of the hill in the "new city" and enjoyed a delicious, leisurely meal. It was almost 9:30 p.m. when we returned. Although we were all quite ready to retire for the evening, the dark, clear sky, filled with stars was much too impressive to ignore; we had to stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of God's creation in this ancient city of Peace, the home of St. Francis, in Assisi. We look forward to celebrating Mass tomorrow at his tomb. St. Catherine of. Siena and St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!