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Monday 14 August 2000

Umm, the perils of not reading your guidebooks on the spot; fortunately, I eventually did — to realize I'd missed the one fantastic thing in town; this morning at 8:30 I went back to the Basilica S. Nicola and saw it, with a vengeance.

I was right, that the actual church of S. Nicola was nothing terrific; but it's attached to two cloisters (13c and 15c respectively, both much reworked, and only the larger earlier one really of interest), a chapel housing the two arms of S. Nicola — an explanatory inscription, 19c, only succeeds in raising all kinds of odd questions (stating that 40 years after he died, when they chopped his arms off, nice fresh blood flowed; that these arms foretell calamities; and that they are now "more elegantly" housed) — a crypt with the rest of him, and finally the Cappellone: a single room in which I stood for just over 3 hours.

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S. Nicola di Tolentino: the NE corner of the Cappellone.

I was very surprised to find that this large frescoed room is open to any kind of photography, including flash. I was only very slightly less surprised at the extraordinary beauty of the chapel, not only from the standpoint of draftsman­ship and expressiveness and colors (restored 1990), but also and especially the intelligence and cohesiveness of the iconography: it's a truly marvelous space, one of the great sights of Italy, and I'm very very glad I came here. (I also took over 3 rolls of film of it, toss in another roll for the rest of the church).

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Detail of the S wall: the sleeping disciple.

As a bonus — by way of a sort of thank you, I went and found the first friar who'd let me in, to show him a possible discovery (or certainly, at least, an interpretation of mine of one of the frescoes); he brought in another, we talked iconography, and when I mentioned how wonder­fully the room could be read both horizontally and vertically, he in turn went and got the Father Superior, who — and of course I knew nothing of any of this — had written a bit in this sense, towards an interpretation of the Cappellone, which was published as part of the proceedings of a conference — he gave me an offprint, which I wound up reading in the chapel as long as I had the opportunity; needless to say, I was delighted that someone else (with better credentials!) had read the chapel like me: in addition he had an idea about the E wall, where I was at sea; both of us remain stumped by the female saints' medallions on the S wall. . . .

After this, what remained to see (the larger cloister, mostly) was an anticlimax, on the other hand the friars run a scholar­ly bookstore on the Marche — books, proceedings, guides, monographs on small towns, their medieval and occasionally Roman remains, etc. I bought 145ML of stuff — Father Bruno (Silvestrini) my second friar had already given me a book on the Via Lauretana and a CD on Sarnano produced a few years ago by their APT and now unavailable — so that my knapsack is now pretty heavy. I'd had the idea first to walk to Treia, but nixed that last night because short of walking a total of 30 km I prolly wouldn't have any way of getting out of Treia: I'd have to walk on to Macerata for my train — additionally unsatisfactory because that would leave me having been somewhere (Macerata) but not really, rather to its train station — i.e., I'd have "been" to Macerata but not really, rather like my first time in Fabriano in 1998.

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