Assisi Diary Post 15: Assisi 0 kms left!
Last time I did a post I was in Foligno with only a very short distance to go. While there I had the opportunity to be shown round the Convent in which I was staying and which had some amazing and very old (some dating from 13thC) wall frescos. This was after I had written the posting and I wanted to share a photo with you. The depth and perspective of some of them was amazing and the photo I am including does not really do it justice.
Next day, 13th I set off from Foligno rather undecided as to where to make for and what route to take. If I stayed on the road along the valley I could probably easily make Assisi that day. On the other hand, Yvonne was coming in to meet me and it would be so nice to walk in to Assisi and have a welcoming committee (albeit of one!). I could take the high route from Spello to Assisi I had found in a walkers guide in Foligno (this was the last piece of the jigsaw I wrote about in the last diary item) but it entailed an ascent of up to 1200 metres but it took you into Assisi by the Sanctuary of Eremo Delle Carceri where St Francis used to go on retreat. I very much wanted to arrive at Assisi via the Eremo. If I did plump for the high route should I try to do it all today and stay at the camp-site near the Eremo, thus making it quite a long demanding day, or should I stay in Spello tonight (only 4 kms from Foligno) but then have quite a long day tomorrow?
All this was going thru my head as I left Foligno. In addition, to add another dimension to the situation, there had been the mother and father of a storm last night and it looked from the sky that there may be still more rain to come!
I arrived at Spello having followed the main road along the valley floor, the road I had actually wanted to take was subject to roadworks and the signs said it was now a dead end. Like many of the other towns I have seen Spello was perched on a hillside
There I visited the Basilica but also another lovely Church (the name of which annoyingly escapes me) which had beautiful music playing, unusual for Churches in Italy in my experience, and had a truly wonderful fresco capturing such love and tenderness I was really moved and stood in front of it for some time. Cannot remember the artist or date or anything. It was a scene where Joseph is embracing Mary after she has told him of the Annunciation.
Anyway went to the Tourist Office to see if I could get more information about local paths and just as I did so the heavens opened. As always the girl there was very friendly and helpful and gave me a really useful book showing all the paths in the Mount Subasio park which was possibly my route. I asked her about the weather. She checked the internet and said it would clear and be OK this afternoon but would be raining tomorrow morning. That settled it. With the walk info I could see another route which would take to the Eremo but much lower down (I might add here you are still talking about going up to 800+ metres in altitude). If it was going to be fine this afternoon I could do it. If it was going top rain again tomorrow morning I did not want to heading off to the Eremo. So I decided to have a long stop here and then resume after the weather cleared.
Naturally I took the wrong route out of Spello, lost the height I had gained by going up into the town and found myself again on the valley floor road that would lead to Assisi!
At that point I had a chat with God. I said ¨Look God, my feet are in your hands. I can error-correct this mistake but I don't know whether I will recognise the turnings when I come to them. I don't know whether I will find the pedestrian path to the Eremo. I don't know whether I will camp wild in the mountains, make the Fontemaggio camp-site or end up in Assisi looking for the pilgrim Refugio. I will be guided by wherever you send my feet.¨
Got to the turning that I though would correct my mistake and sure enough found myself on the correct road. Then arrived at the next place I should turn off but again I was not sure. It was not signposted to the village I hoped it would, it was just a street name. I took it anyway. There were another few junctions that I just navigated using 'gut feel' (or divine inspiration). Eventually I came to a T junction where I thought I knew where I was, though the road had not behaved as it looked on the map so I could have easily been somewhere else. The weather was worsening. I could go left downhill and arrive probably at Assisi. I could go right and continue climbing, not necessarily on the right road. Even if I was on the right road I might not find the sentier to the Eremo. I know this 'cause it has all happened to me in the past!
I went right.
I could hear a voice telling me that any sensible person would not be heading up a mountain into the clouds looking for a path that might turn out to be as hair-raising as the one I took to Monteluco. Up and up the road I went. I could see the valley below with the houses getting smaller and smaller. Soon I was getting into cloud level - see pics below
I kept looking at the map to try and judge where the sentier should be and realized there was a point on the road I should recognise and if I did not find the path after that would have to retrace my steps. There had by then been a few cart tracks leading off in the right direction though none had been signed.
Then I saw it! And not only did it have red and white GR type signage but it also had the familiar Via Francescana waymark. I was so relieved. And it was a wide dirt track not a narrow footpath - see below
There was still a fair bit of 'up' to do and it was now raining. But the path remained reasonably easy to negotiate. At one point with the bad weather I did contemplate camping wild, and did find a suitable flat spot, but I was still not tired and did not fancy the idea of carrying a wet tent the next day. It did not look as though the sun would return to dry things out. So I pushed on. Eventually I arrived at the entrance to the Sanctuary but although the Franciscan Community were there, the actual Sanctuary was closed for renovation. The Church was not open for visiting but the Friar who gave me a stamp for my pilgrim's credential said it was OK to go in and pray which I did so, for my safe arrival.
I then walked down to the camp-site
which also was a Youth Hostel and decided to have an indoors bed rather than camp. I settled down knowing I had only about 1 km to walk the following day.
The next morning was bright and sunny, without the threatened rain and I set off in good spirits though ironically not knowing where precisely my pilgrimage would end. This was because with Yvonne arriving later that I would, I might walk down to the train station to meet her, in which case my pilgrimage would end at Santa Maria Degli Angeli.
Then suddenly I came round the corner and came upon the entrance to Assisi - Porta Cappuccini
I carried on down through Assisi and arrived at the Basilica of St Francis. There are two Churches here, one on top of the other. As I reached the entrance to the uppermost Church, I saw that Mass was about to start in the lower. I went there immediately and attended Mass. It was a very special time. Afterwards I requested a Mass be said at the basilica for all those who had prayed for me and wished me well. The Priest who dealt with the requests also blessed a small prayer card and again this was a very special moment for me. I share it with you with the picture of the card below. The image is part of a fresco in the lower Basilica and ironically I sat just under this image at the Mass.
I then asked the Priest about a pilgrim stamp, he told me where to get it, I got the stamp and stood outside the Basilica (see pic below) and realised that this was the end of my very long journey.
I went for breakfast - it was now midday and by the time had finished, realised it was too late to get down to the train station so arranged to meet Yvonne in the main square. I had booked us into a hotel for the next nigh onwards but we decided to see if we could stay from today and joy of joys we could. We were taken up to our room and what a view! We had a balcony with a fantastic view out over the valley below Assisi. I thoroughly recommend this hotel, it's called the Hotel Posta Panoramic and is very central, on Via San Paolo just a few minutes away from the main square and Tourist Office and handy for all the Basilicas. The staff are friendly, helpful and very accommodating. They even got in a bottle of champagne specially for me when I explained I wanted to celebrate. Alas the weather changed and we had several slightly chilly days with rain and I did not get a decent picture of our view but see below, it gives an idea
So what next? It will be a while before I am in England as I have a few other things I am doing beforehand. But as far as walking is concerned, I had always intended continuing from Assisi to LaVerna next year. But I missed quite a few places I had intended to visit this time because of the vagaries of my route planning. So I will probably walk again from Rome to Assisi and then on to LaVerna and Florence. But this time I will make sure I have all my maps and guides before I set off! There is a waymarked route to/from Rome which I actually stumbled across early on and I would like to try and follow it and perhaps write a guide to it.
As with my last pilgrimage, there were a number of people I met along the way for whom I had no contact details. I prayed for them at the Basilica of St Claire and they are listed below:
* A lad I met on 09/06/2008 at the Basilica of St Quintin. He was honouring the first anniversary of his father's death. I prayed for him and his father.
* A lady I met on 11/06/2008 at the Basilica in Laon. I prayed for her and her nephew, Francis.
* A lad I met on 15/07/2008 who served me in a food shop in Iverea and insisted on giving me some bottles of juice.
* A couple I met on 16/07/2008 on the way out of Iverea
* Emmanuel who I met sometime after 21/07/2008 who, when I told him I hoped to arrive in Assisi on 14th September, told me he was getting married that day at 17:00.
* A Parish Group from Lodi I met on 23/07/2008 at Santa Andrea where you take the boat across the Po. They were great fun and very kind. The Parish Priest could speak French and helped to arrange for the boat to come and collect me.
* A woman I met on 20/08/2008 on the way in to Viterbo
* A woman I met on 01/09/2008 on the way in to Bocchignano
* Andrea who I met on 05/09/2008 in Contigliano. He turned out to be another Guardian Angel
* A woman I met on 09/09/2008 in Cese. She was very kind to me, giving me a cup of coffee and some cake. There was no bar or cafe in the town. She missed her son who had died at the age of 29. I prayed for them both.