We were celebrating a number of birthdays today, Margaret Delaney, Fr. Stephen and my sister, Rose. We set off at a reasonable time (much better than our very early starts the two days before for those of us who find 5.30 am testing) and dragged our bags, rattling through the streets of Rome to the bus. Then we were off, past the Lateran Basilica and the statue of St. Francis, and onto the flat plain of Lazio and its autostrada, praying morning prayer or sleeping as you wished. Then we began our climb up into the green hills of Umbria, stopping at a service station which has quotes from famous people, philosophers and others, written up in chalk on the wall behind the bar. Eleanor Roosevelt, Ghandi, Borsellini, Michael Jordan, Che Guevara etc. How often would you see that on the M6? Then though the hill-top towns and little forts, past the castle of Spoleto towards Assisi, which came into view eventually, with the Basilica of St. Francis stretching out to the left. Pietro, our driver, took us most of the way up and then a minivan came for the bags and we walked the rest of the way to our hotel, La Rocca, set into the walls of the city. Great view as I opened the window of my room, cooler than Rome especially at night. That afternoon we walked to the cathedral of St. Ruffino and then to the Sisters of the Atonement who were an American Anglican order of men and women, who all became Catholics in the late 19th century, and Sister Sue welcomed us very well, and we had Mass in their lovely St. Francis style chapel. (I think the early starts and the journey was starting to take its toll on some or it could have been the quality of the homily giver!) The sisters have an ecumencial mission here in Assisi and are very hospitable to many different groups.
I just wanted to go back to the Sistine Chapel and remember something of the tour we were given by Christina. The side paintings of the lives of Moses and Jesus are by very famous painters,Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio and others. They are wonderful but stylised and rather set. Then you look at the ceiling of Michelangelo done only about 20 years later and you see life coming into the paintings. The famous central scene of God the Father and Adam and their fingers. Adam is good looking and muscled up in Michelangelo’s accurate way, and gazing lovingly at the Father, but as yet lacks life. He is still, as if just from the earth. Then the Father blows in as if on a gust of breath or wind, full of movement and life, and the moment is just the pregnant moment when he is about to touch Adam, to give breath, life to him with a look of great love. The Father and the angels are caught up in a shape that look like a cross-section of the brain (Michelangelo was a keen disector of bodies to see how they worked.) I liked her descriptions. Apologies or the spelling!