The bridge, locally known as the Ponte del diavolo, the “devil’s bridge”, (same name, same legend as the one in Central Wales, and many others, doubtless) more accurately called “il Ponte della Maddalena” – a marvellous feat of fourteenth century engineering built by order of that grand lady, the Countess Matilda of Canossa to help pilgrims upon their way on the Via Francigena to Rome – presented a somewhat distressed sight as I passed by it to do my shopping at Borgo a Mozzano’s “Penny Market”. I’d never seen so many tree trunks, twigs and logs piled up against its piers – a witness to how much rain has fallen recently and how much the Serchio’s banks have been eroded by the abnormal floodings…
Since the bridge is a good eight hundred years old I was particularly worried about its fabric. How long can these beautiful structures, built in an age which knew no reinforced concrete or mechanical diggers but infinite faith instead, last if no proper care is taken of them?
Closer to home, on the way up to Gombereto, there is a ruined chapel at Refubbri (the name of the nearby stream) where the Oratory of the Visitation of The Virgin Mary to Saint Elizabeth, mentioned in a famous poem by Robert Browning, is fast succumbing to creepers and (now that its roof has largely gone) to the elements. (For more information and photographs on this sad situation do visit my special web site at http://refubbri.tripod.com/engstart.htm). There was talk at one time to restore the chapel at Refubbri and use it for non RC Christian celebrations (especially weddings) but, to date, nothing has come of this.
Gombereto has three little churches (or chiesine) in its religious purlieus: San Giuseppe, standing outside the southern entrance to the village, Santa Maria dei Dolori, at the northern end, (beautifully restored recently, courtesy of Claudio Gemignani), and Refubbri, the chiesina della Visitazione, which should have been the most appropriate place to celebrate the feast of the Visitation but which now sadly stands (just) in total neglect, roofless and prey to ivy and the weather.
As I returned from my shopping yesterday I stopped to look at this melancholic chapel. Even in winter it was almost totally covered by foliage. The roof has long since collapsed but the inner arch supporting it was still intact, for how long goodness knows. The little bridge connecting it to the road was still seemingly solid but, again, I wondered for how long – the Refubbri stream had become a raging torrent and I wasn’t quite sure if the bridge was safe to cross.
While there are many worthy causes to donate money to and many more distinguished buildings needing help I remain dejected at the thought that, for the eight-plus years that I have lived here, the little woodland chapel of Refubbri has no-one to love it and help it live again in some form whether that be even a hiker’s shelter from the rain.
Today we are promised respite from the rains – the whole area around here desperately needs it!