Wednesday, October 13, 2010

San Gimignano and Lecceto

On Wednesday of our Pilgrimage, the fifth day in Italy, and second in San Gimignano, we started bright and early with breakfast at the Augustinian house where Fr. Brian, Fr. Ian, Brother Delphio live. After breakfast we set out on a bus being driven by Leonardo, who first drove us that day, and would drive us right up through the rest of the pilgrimage. Joining us were Claire and Meghan from the Anglo-Scottish group. Claire is a Scot who was instrumental in the leadership and coordination of the Augustinian Youth Encounter in England (AYE 2010), and now works at the Augustinian parish in Birmingham, England. Meghan is a student in Edinburgh, Scotland, and part of Fr. Gianni Notorianni’s, OSA, Augustinian parish there.

The first place we went was San Leonardo, where there are old ruins of one of the earliest communities to make up the Order of Saint Augustine as we know it today. The structure itself actually predates the formation of the Augustinians as an Order in 1256. There was also a drained lake which was drained by the local duke.

Next we went to Lecceto, where there is an active community of Augustinian contemplative sisters. It too was one of the earliest established communities, but fell out of use also. In response to a request from the Archbishop of Siena to reinvigorate Augustinian spirituality in this region of Tuscany, a group of sisters took up the call, and have been living there for about 40 years. They are a cloistered group of sisters, which means that, in general, they remain separated from the outside world for a life dedicated to prayer for the world.

Shortly after we arrived we met briefly with some sisters and the mother superior, Madre Sophia. However, shortly after realizing most of us spoke English and not Italian, the mother superior called for Sister Sarah, one of the externs/porters, to be our guide. We talked for a bit in a meeting room, and then the mother superior permitted us to enter the cloister. Sister Sarah gave us a brief tour of a part of it, and then opened up the shop, where some of the products of their community are sold, such as the crosses we wore as pilgrims. After that, we joined the sisters in the church, which is partially cloistered and partially open so that the public may join the cloistered sisters in prayer. We prayed one of the midday prayers, part of the “Divine Office” or “Liturgy of the Hours,” the prayer of the Church, which is recited daily by priests, laity and religious at all hours around the world.

On a personal note, this visit to Lecceto was among my favorite parts, as we were very privileged and blessed to be allowed such an intimate glimpse into the life of these Augustinian sisters. Not only is it so different from what most are used to, but it is such a special and holy way of life, wholly intent upon God. (similar to cor unum in deum on our crosses) During our visit, Sister Sarah explained many details of the communal life there, giving a glimpse simply not possible through studying a book. The midday prayer was nearly entirely sung and very beautiful, again not only in its musical merit, but the wholeheartedness of the prayer itself.

After prayer, we departed the convent and went to a town called Monteriggione for lunch. It’s an interesting town in that it has a wall around it. We ate at a good restaurant that was recommended by Leonardo, the bus driver. We got to sample some more of the cheese particular to Tuscany, with some bread and honey. We also briefly visited a church as we were leaving.

We headed back to our base camp at San Gimignano, with our host and hostess, Fr. Brian and Mother Magdalena. We went to the tower which was part of the Augustinian house and took pictures there of the great view. Not long after, Fr. Gianni and two other Augustinians celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Augustinian house, with the Anglo-Scottish group also present.

That night we had pre-prandials, followed by a large meal with everyone from both groups in the main refectory that night. It was our second taste of Loretta’s (the cook for the Augustinians) culinary genius. It was delicious and plentiful. Dinner was followed by a mixing of song and dance from the various cultures present. Fr. Joe Farrell, OSA played us some “American Pie” on a guitar, and we learned a Scottish Calih dance. The evening was finally concluded with cleaning dishes, and a late night game of “Wings Up” with Fr. Gianni and Claire.

Thus concluded the Wednesday of our trip and began a night of very sound sleep.

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