In the footsteps of the saints

Mass being celebrated at the tomb of St Francis in Assisi

Recently a group from the Catholic church in Rye, St Anthony of Padua, set out on a pilgrimage. There is usually something romantic associated with a journey described as a pilgrimage. Such journeys are so very ancient and always to a spiritual destination.
Historically a pilgrimage would be associated with physical hardships or the challenge of difficult terrain but, for the group of Catholics setting out from Rye to Rome at 5:15am, it was the early morning time of the flight from Gatwick that presented the biggest challenge. There were 16 in our group led by our parish priest Father Matthew Chadwick OFM Conv.
Being a small parish and having a small church, many of us do not meet each other during the course of normal worship and mass attendance, so it was particularly enjoyable to be able to travel together. Our group was a mixture of people, some new to Rye and others who have been attending St Anthony’s for many decades.
We all felt eager anticipation to visit Assisi, most especially the great Basilica of St Francis, consecrated in 1253. This was especially the case for our parish priest who is a Franciscan friar from America. On arrival in Rome we all transferred to a coach to Assisi and arrived in time to for a short visit to the Basilica before dinner.
It is apparent from first glance that the Basilica of St Francis is an extraordinary showcase of paintings. In fact it contains the most complete mural decoration of the 13th and 14th century to be found in Italy. The following day we all thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the Basilica, a particular highlight being Father Matthew celebrating Mass at the site of the tomb of St Francis. We visited St Francis’ house, and the sites around Assisi closely associated with the life of St Francis and St Clare and the beginning of the Franciscan movement.
We then transferred to Padua by coach where our hotel was directly opposite the Basilica of St Anthony, the famous Franciscan saint after whom our parish church is named. Padua is a beautiful medieval town and includes the celebrated Capella degli Scrovengi, chapel decorated with some of the finest frescos by Giotto.
It was extraordinary and mind-boggling to realise that this small, beautiful chapel with its vibrant bright colours was being decorated at the same time as Dante wrote the Inferno.
Our six-day trip came to an end too quickly and too soon we were all back on the plane to Gatwick and on our way home to Rye. It was in many ways a refreshing trip, to be in the company of like-minded others, and to be able to discuss faith and spirituality openly is a rare experience these days.

Photos: Mags Ivatts


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