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Monday 20 October 1997

(Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday Sunday 19th — goodness, I'm actually nearly caught up! — I went on a major hike, much of which was wonder­ful, and the end of it exceptionally painful in the calves, although not cramps, just acute muscle ache (which really oughtn't be happening at that mileage — no more than 31 km, probably only 30).

The train to Spoleto, arriving at very close to 10: and N from the station — once I got my info from three old men in the station square (i.e., once they finished exclaiming "on foot!" and telling me where to go to get buses — and yet I have to say on foot, since often pedestrian routes are shorter: apparently in England this won't happen, but everywhere else so far it's the same slightly irritating battle) — to Pontebari: old bridge piles may be partly Roman ?? — then to S. Brizio and Bruna, the idea being Monte­falco-Foligno-Spello.

San Brizio essentially did that in, which in view of my calf problem was OK I guess — The church owes its scenic attractiveness exclusively to its 16th or 17th century belfry, impressively large and crowned by a proportionately large 19c concrete dunce cap as in Northern France; but that doesn't work for Booby. . . But as soon as I actually got there — base of the tower studded with Roman stone; an inscription and the side & front have more Roman stone, plus a nice Renaissance door — I was hoping I'd see the inside.

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San Brizio from the Spoleto road, to the SE.

So was one of the church's neighbors, who went and grabbed the sacristan and the parish priest exiting from Mass outdoors (earthquake) a hundred yards away. I felt very apologetic — dislike dragging people about and requesting favors — but am very glad they were so very keen on opening the church, lighting it, answering questions, encouraging me to photograph it: "storico dell' arte" plus "sito ingente sull' Umbria su Internet" were a power­ful draw to people who love their church and have been trying to get Beni Culturali to repair it — in definite need of structural repairs, plus a bit of fresco work won't hurt — and visitors to come look at it. The beauti­ful large Romanesque building, with choir elevated over a crypt much like the smaller S. Giovanni Profiamma, is power­ful and elegant and contains some good Renaissance sculpture as well; plus the empty sarcophagus possibly once the tomb of S. Brizio, who now reposes, thru the vagaries I assume of relic sale or theft, in Tours of all places.​a Anyway, an hour and a half in S. Brizio, and Don Ernesto, an elegant white-haired man, asked me to put on my site: "Salviamo S. Brizio, gioiello dell' arte romanica"; nor can I see why not. Left at 3.

Straight shot down a not excessively travelled road lined with catalpas; to "Bruna", local road signs "La Bruna": a tall simple brown church. Unplanned, my side trip to Castel Ritaldi only 1.8 km irresistibly away, and I'm very glad I went, even if I never got to Monte­falco.

Castel Ritaldi isn't that much — I was just doing the Booby thing, yellowing in one further commune of Umbria, knowing from the guides more or less what was there — but I'm glad I went (see below).

Sunday afternoon on the main square of Castel Ritaldi: men sitting or standing in caffés. Not a woman in sight. Big clunky church-and‑castello combination, not unattractive; here and there thruout the town, the occasional Roman stone: unexpectedly for me, since the town is on neither branch of the Flaminia and I hadn't seen any at La Bruna.

My TCI Umbria mentioned a little church, Pieve S. Gregorio, about a km N of town, with a sculpted Romanesque door. I went, just in case: but remembering the Romanesque church similarly marked at Cannara, which was like so-what.

Pieve S. Gregorio is wonder­ful!​b Among the most beauti­ful Romanesque carving I've ever seen anywhere, including Assisi: in small, as good as Bevagna's S. Michele; something of the flavor of Moissac to it, toutes proportions gardées. Very fine, elegant work; good strong carving, plus some of the scenes thoughtfully identified. (Interesting how, when these churches were built, the graphics were stressed because many couldn't read: and now, most of us can't read the graphics and any inscriptions are welcome!)

[image ALT: close detail of a Romanesque high-relief carving of a long-haired man astride a lion and prying its jaws open, inscribed 'Leo et Sanson']

And from Pieve S. Gregorio at 4 P.M., into the get‑me-home phase of the walk; Monte­falco seemed an imprudent detour so I headed for Foligno, making it into town before dark this time: long rather odd flat stretches of country, working farmland, looking a bit like France; until Großer Foligno won out and Umbria lost. . . Actually, this approach to Foligno isn't at all as ugly as the northern and western.

James called while I was walking past Fabbri — the Madonna della Stellaº before that, a couple hundred yards to the left of the road, is a peculiarly Austrian-looking building and I didn't leave my road — to read me a digest of my e‑mail in the usual Internet hotchpotch of languages; Laure Olive-Humbel casting about desperately for a new place for her site; Jim Miller; a couple of less urgent items — It's really really odd to be out walking the fields of the Folignate talking with someone on the other side of the Atlantic.

Sterpeto and post-Sterpeto navigation in the dark without much of a map left me very surprised when I suddenly found myself at the "VIRTVTI FORTVNA COMES/STRENVORVM IMMORTALE NOMEN" memorial three blox from the train station: gratefully so, too, since I thought I was somewhere SW of the Madonna della Fiamenga having left the center of the town to my right and wasn't relishing the prospect of 4‑5 km more before I hit the sack.

As it was, my cows hurt — no cramps, though — really pretty bad: without any good explanation for it, having done only 29 kilometers is my guess thru pretty flat country by Umbrian standards. Train station: next putt-putt to Spello in 1h45m; found a pizzeria and ate a largish if indifferent meal: good bresaola-rugola-olive oil antipasto, and thence downhill — a ham-cheese-artichoke-tomato pizza, a chork pop, a tiramisú, 66 cl of an ale called Bonne Espérance. Train, slow trudge uphill in the dark in Spello, home, very grateful for a hot shower, and slept.

Later Notes:

a This is probably not right. There was indeed a bishop of nearby Spoleto named Brizio (Latin: Brixius), or even possibly two: one in the 1c, the other in the 6c. The Brixius whose bones appear to rest in Tours — and I'm not certain that's true, either — would be yet another saint: a deacon of the church of Tours under its bishop St. Martin: he succeeded the saint in the see, although with a very chequered story. Still investigating all this.

b There is at least one other medieval rural church in Umbria by the same name, near Montone; it is not as interesting, they say: I confess that I passed it by (about 400 m off my route, which was a long one that day, he says by way of excuse); see Mar. 14, 2004.

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