Eurotrip Day 16: Saints and skeletons

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Chianti is views upon views of vineyards and olive trees, green rolling hills dotted with little medieval villages, the smell of grape must in the air. Chianti is also winding roads with treacherous drop offs on each side and Italians who have no fear of the many blind curves and gravel switchbacks.

We relished our downtime in our stunning AirBnB (stay with Luigi and Roberta!) and decided to spend all day lounging in the sun in our front step area on our last full day in Tuscany. Christopher played, I finished my book, and Therese gummed Italian baby biscuits in the grass we got at the grocery store, all in front of this view.

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I got very tan. It was heavenly.

I was feeling particularly run down, probably because I was actually finally resting. Chris took the kids while I took a nap in the afternoon until we set out to find a daily Mass in a little village about 20 minutes away, Castellina in Chianti.

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We arrived only to find no signs of Mass, nor any indication of a regular time at all, since the schedule posted to the entrance was handwritten and seemingly random. We wandered around the town, killing time before Italian 7:30pm dinner time and enjoying the locals’ discovery of the “due bimbi” in our stroller. Che charini.

We stopped by the church one more time to look around one at a time while the other stayed with the stroller at the bottom of some stairs.

The church was dark and piped in some chant over the speakers. It had a full skeleton relic of St. Faust, a locally revered saint whose intercession had supposedly kept disaster away from the town at several points in its history. The bejeweled skeleton faced an icon of Mary nursing baby Jesus next to a beautiful painting of the Annunciation. I kept jumping in surprise in the dark at various statues placed seemingly haphazardly around the church.

I left with a small reminder of how weird Catholicism is. It’s not respectable; it’s bejeweled skeletons and a young woman saint’s head; it’s another young woman breastfeeding God incarnate. Some of it is simple foolishness, but much is foolishness to a world that is perishing and does not see resurrection prefigured in the tombs of saints beneath altars and God in the flesh in bread and wine. This is the faith of the Church; the strange earthy mysteries of body and spirit and union with God. It’s in the majesty of St. Peter’s Basilica and the oddities of folk saints.

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Chris and I debriefed our trip so far and, while we could have stayed soaking up Chianti for another three days, we are a bit relieved to be heading back to England. The familiar culture, lack of a language barrier, reunion with friends and ease of ordering double Americanos to go are high on the list of the comforts of London and Oxford and Cambridge. But I take the familiar feeling of that odd little village church with me and remember the unexpected alienation from the numbers of Anglican chapels we toured at Oxford. There was some home in that foreign Italian countryside.

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