We awake to a great fog rolling in over the plain and the sounds of doves and a late-to-bed owl. The day begins with a prayer service on the rooftop. The fog slowly eats the silent, shrouded city, and our voices in song soar out over red rooftops dematerializing in the mist.
Here's what I will remember always about the city:
- church bells ringing every 15 minutes
- swallows sweeping in encircling crowns
- red tiled roofs against poplar and cedar
- figs and olive trees fruiting in pots in every niche and corner
We meet on the steps of S. Chiara, a towering church still run by the Poor Clare's. Its bon-Bon stripes are unmistakable although you can tell each church apart by the number of circles in its rose window.
We are honored with a mass in the crypt in front of St. Chiara's bones. But, what moves me is the realization, with Fr. Andre's help, that this is a church honoring women. Frescoes, in patches surviving through earthquakes and the sanitizing scrub downs after plague, all depict women both humble and grand. The sisters buzz and flit around and Andre's admiration of their strength is visceral. Jean-Francois paints Claire in a whole new light for us, and I see her anew, from her height and blonde hair to her equality as well as her leadership in her relationship with Francis. We have a prayer service in front of the San Damiano cross, where the Mary Magdalen is tucked Into Christ's side and other women of determination perch around him.
I feel included here, in a space venerating women and all our many Roles. I did not expect to experience it this way.
The honoring of women continues at St. Mary of the Angels. We step into the church inside a church, rococo majesty cradling humble wood and stone. The Portiuncula is holy ground. Crossing its threshold garners pardon for all our sins. Our own sister Rosine is asked to be a Eucharistic Minister and Mallie and I sit with her, our backs pressed against a stone wall that Francis himself built with his own hands. Father Andre gives a homily on the meaning of the words “mother” and “virgin” and “virgin become church.” when we emerge into the plaza, it's not the sunlight that dazzles my eyes.
Painting over altar in the Portciuncula
Italian doorway – symbolizes “welcome”
Francis over ancient doorway