Saturday, 28 July 2012

Visiting Trevi nel Lazio (part 1)

Last year, as I was preparing for my ordination to the episcopate, I wrote a blog post entitled Introducing my diocese. In that post I explained what it means for an auxiliary bishop to have a titular diocese, and how lucky I was to have one with some people still in it! I mentioned that I hoped to visit the place the next time I was in Italy.

Well, I’m in Italy now, on my last full day before I return to Canada. And yes, during this time I had a chance to visit Trevi… and what a trip it was!

The story begins when I was contacted in April 5, 2012, by Marco Iacobucci, a young photographer living in Rome who grew up in Trevi nel Lazio. He had recently started a blog for his home town, and had gone on the Internet to try and find articles he could link to. Imagine his surprise to discover that there was now a bishop with Trevi as the titular see! So he wrote to me, wanting to interview me for the blog. I responded that I would be in Italy in the month of July, so instead of an email interview why not meet in person? This set the wheels in motion.

I got to Italy on June 26, but was initially occupied with the events surrounding the pallium ceremony for Archbishop Christian L├ępine. Still, Marco and I did arrange for a meeting in Rome the next week for lunch. As it turns out, he didn’t come alone!

From left to right: Francesco, myself, Marco, and Daniele.

This small delegation, to my surprise, brought presents from Trevi: some books on the town, and some agricultural products (wine, olives, honey… that sort of thing). I was very touched. Over lunch we made plans for me to visit Trevi over a weekend, settling on July 14-15 as the dates, as my good friend Father Stephen Otvos would also be present and I hoped to share this kind of unique experience with someone else as well.

On July 14, Marco came to pick Father Stephen and I up in the morning. There was very little traffic heading out of Rome (the advantage of an early Saturday morning, I suppose), so we made it to the Simbruini mountains in good time. It felt like a summer drive through the Laurentians, and it turns out that Pope John Paul II spend some vacation time here at one point, climbing the mountain peaks in his younger days. The town itself was very picturesque:

After dropping our bags off at the B&B where we would be staying, we headed on to the town proper. Like a lot of old European towns, Trevi was build with a castle at the top of a hill, and was surrounded by a town wall. Over time the town outgrew the limits of the walls, meaning that the “town gates” are actually within the town itself, separating the medieval central portion from the later portion. Our first stop was to these gates. However, as we got closer Marco hinted that a surprise would be waiting for us:

Yes, my friends, they were ringing the town bells for us. We were met at the gates by the mayor, as well as some other representatives of the town, and into the medieval portion. A small crowd was gathered there as well, as it had been announced in the local newspaper that we’d be coming:

The parish church, as it turned out, was not far from the gates, so we headed there first. Once again, there was some fanfare as we arrived:

Father Stephen and I were then given a tour of the interior, and had a chance to head up to the organ loft as well.

The organ itself is a magnificent instrument, having been recently restored. It is now used for concerts, as part of the promotion of the cultural life of the region.

Now while the parish is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the patron saint of Trevi is actually Saint Peter the Hermit, a holy preacher who died around 1050 A.D. at the age of 25. The basement of the church is a shrine dedicated to him, and contains his relics. The first photo is of an altar reliquary containing his bones, the second photo is of a portable reliquary containing his vestments, and the third photo is a reliquary bust containing his skull, which is carried in procession on his feast day (August 30).

It turns out that Saint Peter is also buried in Trevi, so after visiting the parish church, we headed to his shrine. Father Stephen and I went downstairs to pray at the place where he died:

There is very little about Saint Peter on the Internet, as far as I can tell (hmmm… I think a Wikipedia article will someday be in order). Still, despite the fact that he lived almost 1000 years ago, the people here are clearly very proud of “their” saint. One person explained it to me this way: “Saint Peter preached and did a lot of miracles. He died very young, but the people were convinced of his holiness, so the town canonized him and started to celebrate his feast. Eventually the Pope recognized he was a saint.” Not quite the way we do things today, but what a great description!

After all this visiting it was time for lunch. We headed over to a small restaurant that serves local cuisine, and tried a bit of everything.

As it turned out, we were going to need our strength, because the next stop (after a walk though the medieval section) was the castle at the centre of town.

We were given a guided tour of the interior of the castle, which includes an exhibit dedicated to the archeology of the area. The earliest records we have of Trevi are from the Roman era, as the Romans had an aqueduct that started in Trevi and flowed all the way to Rome. However, excavations in nearby caves have shown that human have lived in the Trevi region all that way to the early iron age, at least.

The conclusion of our tour was, of course, a trip to the top of the tower, to take in the view.

The valley as it heads up into the mountains:

The valley as it heads down to the plains and the coast:

By this point the afternoon was wearing on, so we headed to one more site before the parish mass that evening. A common practice in former days was to establish roadside shrines so that travellers would have a place to stop and rest. We visited one such shrine, and took in the frescos decorating it:

As much as I liked this visit, I must admit I was anxious to get back to the parish church for mass. I wish I could say it was because I’m particularly pious, but in all honesty it was because I was particularly nervous. You see, I was to be the presider. And yes, the mass was to be in Italian — a first for me! So we got to the sacristy early, giving me a chance to go over the mass texts so as to get the pronunciation right:

The pastor, which is also rector of a major shrine nearby (and vicar general of the diocese to boot!) showed up shortly before the mass was to start, and we had a chance to exchange a few words:

And then, it was mass!

It turns out our coming for the liturgy had also been announced in town bulletins, so the parish was quite full that evening:

While we headed to the sacristy afterwards, as is the local custom, many people came in to greet us. We had to change quickly, mind you, because we had also been invited to visit with the local confraternity (a kind of local charity often found in parishes throughout Italy).

The confraternity members described their work and gave us some of their literature. It was a real treat to visit with them.

Can you believe this was all in just one day? And yes, we were beat by the end of it. This fatigue wasn’t just physical, but mental, as no one we met from the town (apart from Marco himself) spoke any English. It was a great chance for me to practice, but by the end of the day my brain couldn’t process it anymore! Marco very graciously drove us back to the B&B where we were staying, and after a final meeting with a parishioner and a couple of sisters Father Stephen and I started to share on the amazing experience we had just lived. We hit the hay early, because this was just day 1 of our two-day adventure…