Maggie, Dave and Ray have headed to the Port at Civitavecchia, 80 km west-north-west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea, where we will be catching the ferry to Sardenia. Meanwhile Span and I are making a detour to Assisi, before we hightail it there to meet them…….. hopefully in time to catch the ferry. Why do you ask?? Well we received an email from Bec that went like this…
“Hello Travellers! Hope you’re having a ball! I have a request for school please…. over the course of your travels, do you think you could drop past Assisi and get me 500 medals of St Clare (like the ones Wil got on his first day) please? School will reimburse you, so can you get a receipt too please?…. if you happen to pass a Franciscan Priest or Brother, could you ask them to bless them for St Clare’s in Officer too? We would really love to get some more medals and having them purchased by a family member adds to the historical vibe of tradition that we’re trying to create.”
OK.. so Bec is my oldest daughter and Will is her son. Bec is a teacher at a brand new primary school, called St Clare’s Primary School (St Clare of Assisi).
Off we go to Assisi to see if we can get 500 St Clare of Assisi medals….. no mean feat! We arrived at this most beautiful old medieval town that is UNESCO world heritage listed, and WOW! It is the birthplace of Saint Francis, Saint Clare and at least five other saints (must be something in the water) and has a feeling of peacefulness and serenity about it. It is also the site of many pilgrimages. We saw so many nuns, priests, brothers (and sisters, aunts and uncles).. as well as other visitors. This beautiful medieval town has narrow cobbled streets, with buildings and arches made of stone, and many, many churches.
We made our way into the centre of the town, and by sheer luck, found the place where St. Clare was born. She was born into a wealthy Italian family; she was a beautiful noblewoman, who could read and write, as well as being able to do spinning and needle work. At the age of 18, after hearing him speak, she was inspired by St Francis, and founded the order of Poor Ladies, in the Franciscan tradition. She lived a life of seclusion, wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house and kept silent most of the time.
So… here we are at the birth pace of St Clare, looking for a mere 500 medals!!!! Saw a Franciscan priest who was leading a tour into the church near her home, so asked him the question? Fortunately he had a strong American accent, so conversation was easy. I explained our mission. He asked the name of the school, and promptly replied.. “I was in Australia in the middle of last year, and went to all the Franciscan schools.. ..there is NO St Clares in Officer!’ I quickly explained that the soil for the school would not have been turned at that time, and that it only ‘just’ opened for first day of school this year. He smiled and liked the idea behind the medal purchase. He directed us out of town to a wholesaler “you’ll get them much cheaper there”. Thanked him and off we went.
Arrived at the wholesaler (thanks Tom Tom), just as ‘he’ was locking the door for siesta time. BUGGER! We tried to persuade ‘he’ to open up for our ‘quick purchase’…. told ‘he’ about the bambinos in Australia at St Clares …… but ‘NO….. Siesta MUST go ahead.. come back at 3.30pm ‘he’ said!’ Double Bugger!
Now our dilemma is this …. Plan A: if we waited until 3.30pm to buy wholesale, we would not make the three hour trip to the ferry port in time for the ferry! orPlan B: If we bought in the town, we may not get the 500, and the price would be greater, BUT we could make the ferry at 7pm …. three plus hours away.
Well we opted to give Plan B a try, we could always revert to Plan A if that failed, but that would mean we would probably miss the ferry. We decided to look for the Basilica di Santa Chiara (our Italian is getting better) or St Clare’s Basilica. We followed the signs and found it easily enough, the spire easily visible in the narrow windy streets.
We had about fifteen minutes to wait before the church was open to the public.. ..time a tickin, and the ferry will not wait! There were so many people waiting outside to go in, again, so many nuns and priests as well as tourists such as us, BUT I’m tipping NO ONE was on as mission like ours!!! Kinda felt like the Blues Brothers… ‘On a mission from….’
Looking around, there were many souvenir shops, and we had asked a friar out the front if there was a piety shop inside…. ‘ no’ was the reply, they just sell holy pictures (another English speaker .. St Clare is definitely with us!). Over to the shops we go to try our luck!
First two shops did not have much, and we are beginning to think that the ferry would have to be for another day, when Span saw another shop. In we go (had learned that 500 was cinquecento), and ask the question? They understood, and with a somewhat surprised/ bemused look at these strange Aussies, nodded that they could help. Next came the bartering. The medals were €1 each!!! I explained (with the sweetest of smiles and my besets Italian) our mission…. that the medals were for the bambinos in Australia, and offered fifty cents for each one. He smiled, nodded knowingly, grabbed the calculator and showed 65 cents. Shook my head vigorously and said ‘Ohh no.. for the bambinos in Australia… 50cents!’.. all this with my hands in prayer mode. Well he nodded in agreement and laughed as he went out back to bring a big bag of medals out.
The medals had St Francis on one side, and St Clare on the other. Asked him if he had just St Clare, and the response was… ‘They are together …. she follow him …. they are together”. Can’t argue with that logic! It was a bag of 500, only problem was that it had been broken into. He indicated that we would have to count them out, so Span, myself and his assistant counted the medals (ferry clock a tickin) while he put them into a bag!
Well we were about seventy five short, so rummaged through his counter to find the rest. Found some with gold around them (very nice), and the last twenty or so had a pin on them and were €1.50. He noted this and shook his head…out came the calculator again, with 1 euro. Again vigorous head shaking by Span and me whilst saying… ‘for the bambinos in Australia… annnd we pay you cash!’ Magic words .. deal done.
THEN we remembered that Bec asked for a receipt.. Triple bugger. Tried to explain… problem was, that if he gave me a receipt, it meant he had to pay tax!! Mmmm…. what a predicament! Next thing he grins, grabs a holy picture with ‘ A Simple Prayer’ (prayer of St Francis) and writes a receipt on the back! Bless ….. Love his style!
OK.. Medals in hand, so over we go to the now open St Clare’s Bacilica to find a priest. Now one would think that this would not be an issue in a basilica…. WRONG! Went to the nun selling holy pictures…. No English, but she understood what we wanted when I showed her the medals and did the sign of the cross over them. She smiled broadly and called a helper, who spoke to the priests, however they were busy setting the alter for mass, so we were asked to wait. No probs, but it was now 3.15pm, and we still had about a three hour ride to catch the 7.30 pm ferry.
Next thing, the lady comes back with a big smile and says…. ‘I have a priest for you’. Well what a lovely man he was! He told us his name was Martin, he was about 195cm tall, masses of black hair and glasses, and THE most beautiful smile and kind face…. he truly looked a holy man!
Well we told him ‘our mission’…. He grinned even more, and said…. ‘ I will do the blessing in Latin, then add a special blessing for St Clare”. He then giggled as he pulled out his iPhone and said.. ‘I can never remember it all, so I have it on my iPhone’ … BLESS!
He then said ‘come, we will do it over here by the holy water font’. I took out a handful of medals in my hand and held the bag open as well. Again his big beautiful smile as he blessed the medals, sprinkled holy water over the medals in my hand, and a further liberal sprinkling or two over the medals in the bag (hope they don’t get rusty on the way home Bec). He was such a lovely gentle man.. Left a real impression.
OK…… Mission completed, and a quick visit to St Clare’s Crypt ….. 3.45pm…. On the bike and dashed off to Civitavecchia to ‘hopefully’ get to the 7.30pm ferry on time. Second trip on the autostrada, but no cost this time, cause we knew how to slip past the toll gates! We would post the medals from Sardenia.
What can we say other than that St Clare was with us all the way (thank you)… Up until the last five minutes that is, when the heavens opened up. We stopped to put on our wet weather gear just five minutes from the port when the first shower hit, then it deluged down! Dave had sent us a text with excellent instructions as to where to purchase the tickets (Thanks Davey boy). It was 6.45pm, we were wet but happy, medals safely tucked away in the tank bag dry (all except for the holy water).
Maggie, Dave and Ray were taking shelter under an awning waiting for us. The rain was flooding the roads into the port it was so heavy. Earlier on when on the autostrada (before the rain), we had passed a group of about ten Vespers. Most were two up and loaded to the hilt with luggage. Next thing they too pulled in under the awning and the chatter began. They loved that we were from Australia, and on our own bikes…. most impressed. It never cease to amaze me that you can have two groups of people who speak totally different languages, neither understand much of the other’s language, yet when there is a commonality (bikes), the conversation can progress with much laughter, gesticulating and a fair old understanding each other – what fun, and all dripping wet!
After may photos and swapping of stickers (Span gave them a KooWee Rup Motor Cycle club sticker, and they gave us three Sardinia Vesper club stickers), we all settled into wait to board the ferry… Tired but happy that we had completed ‘our mission’.
The quality of the pics in this blog are not the best because we were using the iPad and iPhone.. still looking for a new battery charger for the camera.
PS.. We lit a candle for our two boys in the church near St Clare’s home, and also in St Clare’s Basilica. We also lit a candle (in the middle of the bottom row, beside the red lighter) for the children and community of the new St Clare’s Primary School in Australia.