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Monday 13 October
(Part 1 of 3)

Spello train station, waiting for train to Foligno which may be late enough to knock out my connection to the Ancona line: today's trip is to Fano.

(So, resuming and catching up on the new batch of excursions thru yesterday: one of the reasons I'm taking this long train trip today is to give me time to write!)

Wednesday the 8th therefore at eleven found me on the train to Terni, and by a coupla minutes past noon I'd headed down to the Piazza Tacito from the train station, on my way to Stroncone: as always, a bit dubiously, since Italian roads may be beauti­fully engineered, but very erratically signposted.

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The chapel of S. Rocco (comune of Terni).

The road SE out of Terni is fairly unpleasant — concrete buildings and whizzing cars — but less bad than most of the other directions as well as those out of Foligno: it's very green and here and there views open up, like for example a minute or two where you can see perched improbably high up on your left the rock-top town of Miranda, which is exactly as its name says!!º Still, other than a rather surprising and uncharacteristic small chapel of S. Rocco — whitewashed, almost New England — nothing of note, and I spent my time watching the road for cars. Cool, overcast, and my first sight of Stroncone was with rolling mists shrouding the dark green rounded tops of the low mountains behind it.

Now my DeAgostini guide, unusually, did an editorial number on a ruined convent and church of S. Simeone, saying what a shame it was in such a state of abandonment and dereliction. That and the remoteness and unfindability of the place, of course, was all that Boobies need to absolutely have to see it.

By intuition rather certainly rather than any clear direction from the DeAgostini (which in fact is responsible of them, forcing the visitor to enquire locally and thus make their presence known), I stopped at the right intersection and by good fortune got an accurate answer as to the distance — makes a difference on foot, and car drivers don't have any real idea of distances — from Gianni, the 20‑year-old son probably of a woman who by her own admission spends much of her time sitting in front of her house, sometimes with a friend or with her husband: the corner house syndrome.

So I took the road to Colle instead of going straight to Stroncone; and in Colle — largish town or even two merging towns — I had more luck: an old man gave me some very clear instructions for getting to S. Simeone; and I got there with no pause, even though I was never quite sure I would, until I actually saw it, nestled away in a pocket between two hills, somewhat like the Eremo delle Carceri.

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The DeAgostini was right about one thing: S. Simeone deserves better, and the combined effects of abandonment, earthquake, vandalism, and art theft have despoiled the church of anything that might give pleasure. The front door has been concreted over in an attempt to keep people out, but the cloister, completely overgrown, with its partly collapsed and overgrown rooms around it, is open: I went everywhere, and saw a few remnants of frescoes (never very good, fortunately) in a setting of nettles, ankle-deep stone debris, and graffiti. The back of the church shows better than elsewhere the fine squared almost mortarless stone masonry, apparently 11c; the garden behind the apse once had an ogival archway.

A caved-in hole in one wall of the cloister leads to the church: "leads to" is hardly right, since it's blocked midthigh-high with stones and a wobbly iron grill further impedes access, but by ducking and clambering I got into the church; a dangerous way in, and a dangerous place to be: several large holes in the floor down to tombs and vaults probably — I've since heard that in the Chiesa Tonda near Spello some evil-minded youth got into the tombs and scattered the bones, and there is talk of black masses and so on — and (S. Simeone) calf-high debris; little broken columns, apparently decorative and smashed in the 1979 earthquake: no apparent damage from the current quakes. But worse than all the vandalism (fairly superficial spray paint and incised graffiti) is the actual art theft: the 16c frescoes, not many and not good, with the faces of saints carefully scalpeled out obviously for resale in the Swiss pipeline and eventually winding up in a New York or Paris apartment bought for $50,000. . . Gullibility and horrific overcharging downstream for a mediocre baroque saint's face; theft upstream of something which would have much more value in its proper context. All very sad; and only the older fresco in the lunette over the front door of the church has survived at all, being unreachable without equipment.

[image ALT: A three-story square stone tower, the third story with arched openings on all sides; it is capped by a sharply pyramidal stone needle. It is the belfry of the church of S. Francesco in Stroncone, Umbria (central Italy).]
Anyhow, off to Stroncone by the direct route, a steep but pleasant strada bianca down to a stream and back up — and Stroncone is wonder­ful.

Massive gates suddenly appear at the end of a steep rise: with a little lapidary collection inside, some of it Roman; then churches with interesting inscriptions, lots of very medieval streets with much of a not-too-distant-past's public lighting system still in place, or at least that's my guess: little circular metal trays hanging down from chains here and there, probably for lamps? Even at midday, the streets are dark and cool, since houses are three, four, five storeys tall; and I bet that keeps the town warm in the winter as well.

Walked Stroncone from one end to the other and then some: the upper (eastern) Reatine section is particularly quiet, with big wild views onto the hills, and the town coming to an instant stop at the little 10‑11c Porta Reatina.

A posh hotel is improbably tucked away in this maze of fused medieval houses: I wandered in to get info for my website, and a young woman told me about some 17c papers they'd found in one of the beams. She showed me some of them, a long manuscript notebook and a printed quaternion: the account of a rape and the subsequent trial & damages awarded (3 times the young woman's dowry). Apparently the woman, 30 years old and unmarried, sister to the parish priest, had slept more than 30 times with a young man ten years her junior, so rape strictly speaking there was none, but then she bore his child — a girl baptised Angela — and he refused to recognise it: so she nailed him.

Maps of Stroncone exist for purchase but seemed to be exhausted: one would be useful.

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	The day had turned beauti­ful and sunny but I needed to get back to Terni to my train (1952h), so after a peek at the church of S. Angelo preparing for the evening rosary — a group of old ladies gathered on the piazzetta, the priest busying himself inside — and 4 rather nice frescoes of the evangelists on pillars in the nave (I just didn't dare photograph them) and a bit more wandering — when the Rosary started, they actually closed the church doors — I walked back down to my intersection with the helpful lady on her tiny streetside terrace. Before that, in fact, I actually recognised her son at work outside his supermarket; this after a particularly nice descent with the occasional Parthian view or photograph in late afternoon light of Stroncone beige and gold on its hill.

The walk to Terni was unevent­ful — noting that I still didn't see the monastery of S. Francesco, nor the apparently wonder­ful Romanesque church of S. Benedetto in Fundis about 2 km from my lady at the intersection — with whom and her husband and another old man a ten-minute chat, about S. Simeone mostly.

The end of my walk was a brisk 3 to 4 km by dusk then night, from one end of Terni to the other, but I got to the station on time, and in fact I got home more or less on time too. Dinner at the Pinturicchio and to bed.

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