Pilgrimage to Padua, Venice, Ravenna and Assisi May 4-13th 2019

Going on pilgrimage is now a familiar experience for the parishioners of the Parish of the Holy Family.

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This year’s pilgrimage to Italy was the perfect way to spend time learning about the lives of St. Mark, St Anthony, St Luke, St Matthias, St Apollinaris and St Francis all of whose shrines we visited.

The theme of this meticulously planned pilgrimage was ‘Opulence and Poverty’. This was a very apt title as on our visits to Venice, Padua and Ravenna we learnt about the opulence of the Venetian Republic and the Byzantine Empire which contrasted greatly with the life of poverty practiced by St. Francis who was born into a rich family but who ‘renouncing all earthly goods, unfettered himself from the enchantment of the money-god who had seduced his family’. A review of the most memorable parts of the pilgrimage, written by each of the pilgrim groups, follows. There is also a small Photo Gallery at the bottom of this posting.

A very comfortable journey on a Redwood’s coach to Bristol set us on our way. With swift self-service baggage check-in, overseen by very helpful airline staff, we all had time to enjoy the airport’s varied food outlets before take off. On our arrival in Italy our coach driver was waiting, waving a ‘Holy Ghost’ sign and we departed Venice airport en route for Padua.

We arrived in Padua, a city which was much larger than most of us had expected, late at night with a driver who was unable to find our accommodation! St Anthony, obviously observing, guided us safely to our hotel, the Hotel Casa del Pellegrino which was just across the road from his resting place in the Basilica. The morning light brought the realisation that our hotel was centrally placed near to the Basilica housing St. Anthony’s tomb. Whilst named after pilgrims, the hotel was very grand and true to the opulence theme at the start of our pilgrimage with excellent facilities in our rooms and friendly staff. The buffet breakfast including hot food, not usually thought of as continental, set us up for our long day’s itinerary. At supper, fish was inabundance – even in the pasta course – which I loved as it was tasty and well-cooked.

The next morning was a cold, wet Sunday but despite the rain Padua was a feast for the eyes. It was uplifting to visit the Basilica of St. Anthony with its opulent domes and towers. It was especially moving to visit the shrine of St. Anthony and to see people making their intercessions – a moment of calm amid the hustle and bustle.

Here we celebrated the first Mass of our pilgrimage in front of St.Luke’s tomb in the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua. The Basilica is very large, dark and somewhat austere in contrast to other churches we were to visit. Local circumstances did not allow us to say mass in English. Instead we all joined the local congregation with the monastic community at the conventual mass. We all started as a community of pilgrims journeying together in God’s love and understanding.

This set the scene for the rest of the pilgrimage with our entire group blending together to help, pray for and support each other throughout our stay in Italy. By the end of the pilgrimage we knew and understood each other better than before and new friendships were formed. Hopefully these new bonds will be reflected in the future life of the Parish.

We walked the old city’s empty streets and huddled beneath arcades for shelter. Our rewards were the splendidly restored frescoes of the Cathedral Baptistry and a warm welcome at the elegant Caffe Pedrocchi, even in our bedraggled state.

By Tuesday Padua sprang into life in the sunshine, busy with shoppers and cyclists. Fruit markets and street cafes filled the piazzas, flanked by grand civic buildings such as the City Hall, the Theatre and the huge Pallazza della Ragione. The interior of this building, the home of guilds and trades since Medieval times, was decorated throughout with astrological murals. We had time to explore and then to relax over lunch and buy souvenirs such as Sapori del Sancto (Biscuits of the Saint) andalso to marvel at the ancient University where students thronged to hear Galileo teaching in this still fine city.

On Monday May 6th we travelled by train from Padua to Venice, Santa Lucia Station and were met by our guide, Cinzia, who proved to be both knowledgeable and effective in guiding our whole group. Both those who were new to Venice as well as those who had visited the city before, set off in eager anticipation on a vaporetto (water bus) down the Grand Canal as far the Rialto Bridge where we all alighted and followed Cinzia through the make-like streets of Venice eventually arriving at St. Mark’s Square which was bustling with visitors.

Cinzia first showed us the exterior of the Basilica and explained to us how it became dedicated to St. Mark who is the patron saint of Venice. St. Mark had been sent by St. Peter to be Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt where he was martyred in 68AD. In 828AD the remains of St Mark were shipped from Alexandria to Venice by two Venetian merchants. They had been to Alexandria on business and had gone to venerate the saint’s relics in the church which had been dedicated to him. The merchants were told that Christian churches are being plundered so they removed the remains of St Mark and concealed them in a basket of vegetables and pork. After a voyage full of dangers the remains of St. Mark arrived in Venice and were received by the Doge who ordered the construction of a Basilica to house them. All the episodes relating to the stealing of the body, its arrival in Venice and the construction of the church are portrayed on the facade of the Basilica, in the mosaics on the vaults, at the side of the presbytery and in the small enamels of the Pala d’Ora. When we went Inside the Basilica we were able to have a close look at The Pala d’Ora which contains over 200 pearls and precious stones. It stands in the centre of the presbytery and is an exquisite antique marble ciborium standing on four alabaster columns, behind the tomb of St Mark, sculpted with the stories of Mary and Jesus as told in the Gospels. After our tour of St. Mark’s Basilica we had time to look around Venice on our own and find lunch.

In the afternoon our pilgrim group crossed to the lagoon island of San Giorgio which lies east of Giudecca. Our friendly guide described the Palladian Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore to us, explaining that its architecture was a major change in the design of churches as it was styled on the temples of ancient Rome whilst incorporating a classical church design. Some of the group then took the lift to the top of the campanile (bell tower) and were rewarded with spectacular views of St. Mark’s across the water. There was then an opportunity to have a drink in a cafe alongside the marina or to relax in the hot sun on the steps of the church before hopping aboard a boat back to St. Mark’s Square.

We left Padua by coach on Tuesday afternoon for Ravenna, stopping to visit the Basilica di Sant’ Apollinaris in Classe. The visit here was our first introduction to the beautiful mosaics that Ravenna and Classe are famous for. We arrived at the Hotel Mosaica, and checked in. We later walked to a local trattoria for our evening meal where the food, local wine and beer was plentiful.

The following morning we began our tour of Ravenna by meeting our guide, Cinzia. We made the short walk to the city centre via an underpass where we saw our first art of the day – murals on the underpass walls. The first stop on our tour was the Basilica di Sant’ Appolinaris Nuova. Cinzia gave us a background to the history of Ravenna. She explained that there were eight UNESCO monuments in the city and that we would be visiting six of them. She further explained that there was a mixture of Arian and Christian dedications in many of the monuments we would see that day.The mosaics we saw were amazing and the most used word of the day had to be WOW!!! The colours used in the mosaics were mainly blue, green and gold and they depicted scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. They portrayed Jesus and his disciples, Peter and Paul and also important figures from Ravenna’s history. The Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were also represented in many of the monuments by their symbols of a golden man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. In addition to the mosaics there were also many paintings and frescoes to view. Some were in the realistic Baroque style and showed human emotion and these contrasted with others in the more static Byzantine style.

In contrast to the opulence of some monuments the churches of St. Francis and St. John the Evangelist were somewhat plain and bare in decoration. The mosaics in the church of St. John the Evangelist were in muted colours of grey and beige and had originally been on the floor. They showed images of animals, the Crusades and many different patterns. As in other places we visited, the windows had a tortoiseshell like effect which turned out to be alabaster from Tuscany which had been given to Ravenna as a gift.

Having avoided any altercations with the many bicycles and parties of school children our cultural, artistic and historical tour concluded just as the rain started. Most of us returned to the hotel, others headed for coffee and cake and returned to the hotel later.

For pilgrims who had been to Assisi before it was lovely to return there and revisit all the special places that mean so much. What a welcome we had from the Sisters at the Casa Madonna della Pace with their bright smiling faces and their warm greetings. They laid on wonderful meals for us and always greeted us with smiles and a kind word. The atmosphere in Assisi was amazing and the medieval festival Calendimaggio took place while we were there. We enjoyed watching the dancers, the drummers and listening to the music. It was a great opportunity to see young and not so young all joining in together.

We revisited a lot of the churches we had visited before and returning to San Damiano was so special. It was peaceful and tranquil and the respect of the visitors, not only in the church, but in the grounds was really moving. Our pilgrim mass at the Sanctuario della Spogliazone was also very special. Fr. Philip told us about a young man called Carlo Acutis. He died of leukaemia in October 2006 aged 15 and his remains are kept in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. After his death there were calls for him to be beatified and in July 2018 Pope Francis declared him Venerable. During his short life he harnessed social media and the internet to praise God and his wise words about each of us making a difference – ‘All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies’ – really resonated with us. This may have been the ‘poverty’ part of the pilgrimage but it was the ‘richer’ in so many other important ways.

After this opulent start we moved into the more basic but clean and adequate Hotel Mosaico in Ravenna. On our first night we dined at a local trattoria a short walk away. A pizza and pasta extravaganza was served by attentive young waiters practising their English. The next day we had plenty of choice at our buffet breakfast before setting out on a guided tour of Ravenna which included lunch at the ‘Ristorante le Gardela’ where one lovely waitress worked tirelessly to serve our party with 3 courses. This recharged our batteries nicely for the afternoon.

We journeyed onto the ‘poverty’ part of our pilgrimage in Assisi where we experienced the simple but so joyous lifestyle of the Franciscan Sisters (Suore Alcantarine). They welcomed us on Thursday with a ‘light lunch’!! What an unexpected 3 course feast, finishing with the best tiramisu most of us had ever tasted.

The Sisters provided us with the most wonderful peaceful oasis and simple but modern accommodation. We were served in their refectory by 2 of the 11 novices – Sabina and Marina – who brightened up our mealtimes with theirsmiles and shy English greetings, whist other served us quietly behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Sister Assunta was overjoyed to welcome us again and to introduce us to her new cohort of novices. She beamed throughout our stay and we were treated to the Sisters’ angelic singing along with her guitar playing quite a few times. Our ‘last supper’ treat on Sunday lunchtime was at the Hotel La Rocca where we were welcomed again by the staff with their usual efficient hospitality and we enjoyed a delicious long Italian lunch in a restaurant packed with locals, which is always a good sign. A final afternoon wander around Assisi was needed by all to walk off the excellent food and wine we had enjoyed. Is this really poverty I asked myself?

Going on pilgrimage brings many blessings. It gives us time to be alone with God in quiet prayer and contemplation and an opportunity to get to know our fellow parishioners better. This pilgrimage has been full of both spirituality and fun. Attending Mass and saying daily prayers together has been uplifting and has given us time for peace and reflection. During this pilgrimage we have been on many well-planned and informative excursions and we have shared delicious food and lively conversation. Our experiences in Italy have given us the opportunity to learn, to give thanks, to petition and to return to our homes and to our Parish spiritually refreshed.

A celebration is planned for June 29th after the 6pm Mass. There will be a presentation about the pilgrimage and a shared supper for pilgrims and parishioners.

— Gloria