In Italy there are many holy mountains.
The holy mountain is, indeed, a theme that permeates world religions.
From the Hindu seminal Mount Meru to the Jewish Mount Sinai of the Ten Commandments to the Christian Calvary there is something given to high places which elevates them even closer to the God many people worship.
I’ve come across several sacred mounts in Italy.
For Italophiles, who doesn’t know the Sacro Monte di Varese, for example? Yet, in the Lucca region I’ve had difficulty in finding such religiously sanctioned places of ascent unless they be, of course, hermitages such as I have described in my previous posts.
For CAI, the Italian Alpine club, of course, every mountain ascent is a kind of act of worship and so it should be. I’ve loved climbing mountains in every part of the world, from the Isle of Skye to the isle of Bali to the Panie from Isola Santa and my biggest dread in old age remains that I may not be able to climb many more of them.
My belief remains, however, that every mountain is sacred, regardless of what religion you follow (or don’t!), because it brings you enormous satisfaction in climbing it, reaching the top and then just looking at the wonderful view encompassing you around. It’s then that you feel you are a cut above the world, above its problems and worries and so much nearer to the ethereal everness of creation.
At the same time, there are sacred mountains which serve particular liturgical purposes, and, if they are of the Christian catechism, they tend inevitably to be associated with the ascent of Christ to the Mount of Calvary and His death (and Resurrection). There is one such mount near Longoio. It’s called Monte Calvario, has a cross at the top of it and was once associated with Good Friday penitential processions. I’ve described in in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/monte-calvario/
Since such places are there just for the looking and for the asking I don’t need to tell you about one sacred mountain I ascended yesterday.
I realise that posts are meant, in every respect, to inform those who read them, but in this case I will keep the exact location of my holy mountain secret in the hope that it will encourage anyone reading this to discover their own sacred mountain in Italy which, at the last census, counted well over a thousand.
The holy mountain I ascended yesterday, shortly before yet another hail storm of astonishing thundering violence and frightening lightning struck, is placed in a remote part of the northern region of Italy – an area wondrous in its depictions of the paintings of some of the greatest of Venetian painters.
I ascended it to reach a sanctuary built around 1700 in the place where the mediaeval castle of Monte Fiascone (1283) once stood. The sanctuary, of quirky architecture, with several weird faces on its buildings, was sanctioned by the archdeacon, Monsignor Giandomenico Cumano, in honour of Saint Francis da Paola, a Franciscan monk and the founder of the Minimi order.
Yes, there is more than one Saint Francis and this one was born in 1416 and died in France in 1507. Ever been to Goa to meet up with Saint Francis Xavier, for example?
The church crowning this holy mount is accessible by following a (very overgrown) paved footpath flanked by the chapels of the Stations of the Cross. (The Stations of the Cross, in case you weren’t sure, describe the last moments of Christ after he was condemned to death until he was taken down from the Cross and buried in a rock tomb).
For the benefit of those who don’t remember them, the stations, which figure on the walls of every Catholic Church in the world from Spitsbergen to Patagonia, are:
- Jesus is condemned to death
- Jesus carries his cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his mother
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls the third time
- Jesus is stripped of his garments
- Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
- Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Some of these chapels on the route I took are just wayside shrines whilst others are veritable tiny shelters, very useful for refuge from hail storms. It’s a steep climb but so rewarding!
The large square in front of the sanctuary is bound by a support wall decorated by seven arches that hold the cells that served as an infirmary for the sick who suffered from the plague, or so tradition vouchsafes.
The tomb of the founder, who died in 1725, and works by local painter Francesco dall’Oglio and other unknown artists, are in the interior.
Regrettably, of course, I was unable to see these as the sanctuary was closed until certain Sundays in May but, at least, I reached the top.
The best thing about reaching the top of a mountain or sanctuary is the view – of course it is!
In that respect every mountain top remains to me sacred in the extreme.
PS I give no prizes for guessing where I was…