Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vespers? Vespers! Vespers

Well, I've made it, and I do like Florence... it's on a more human scale than great Rome, and frankly a lot cleaner; even the grimy bits are less befouled, whereas Rome could do with an almighty scrub. Here in Firenze you hear a terrible lot of English in the streets (I try and speak the most basic Italian, but a lot of guess which nationality don't seem to bother) - around here is not called Chianti-shire for nothing.

I almost didn't make it to the train: having arisen early, and got to St Peter's for 7 am Mass, I had to hunt for Fr Withoos and all his Aussie hangers-on, who turned out to have been shunted over to the altar of the Navicella of St Peter, where the confessionals are. What a blessing, though, to have the Traditional (oops, almost wrote "real") Mass in the Vatican Basilica. The altarpiece being of the Apostles' boat tossed by the waves, and Christ rescuing Peter when his courage failed him when attempting to walk on water, as part of my prayer afterward I prayed Salva nos, Domine, perimus (Save us, Lord, we are perishing) and the Collect of the Votive Mass of SS Peter and Paul.

After the tremendous Oblation, I had the chance to visit the last of the altars in St Peter's that I hadn't reached previously, thereby coming to the relics of SS Processus and Martinian, the gaolers and converts of the Prince of the Apostles. The others were off to breakfast, but I had to hie me back to the hotel, bolt down my own continental breakfast there (curiously, the Italians call it an American breakfast!), then rush off to Ottaviani station (dragging my baggage), and over to Termini to catch the 9 am Express train to Florence.

Once settled on board (I took the wrong seat by mistake), I read over my mini-guide to Florence, had a coffee at the bar, then read Matins (the first two Nocturns). Very strangely, the Psalms at Matins of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin are all out of numerical order - they run in order in every other case I can think of, just as at all the other Hours except Lauds - and I must note that Nova et Vetera has another misprint, this time in the eighth Matins responsory.

What a pity, by the way, that Italy is "united" and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany is no more! I would have loved getting that stamp in my passport. Of course, as a pupil of St Philip I should long rather for the Republic of Florence (not that it treated Dante, say, or Savonarola terribly well); indeed, being of nostalgic mind I would that it were still Etruria of old, with Etruscan spoken - however, Florentia was a Roman colony, so I suppose I oughtn't wish her away...

We pulled in to Florence in good time, and a quick taxi ride later I was at my (very swish) hotel: I'm glad to have splurged on this part of my trip. Having signed in, I went for a walk about, and first to Santa Croce.

In the catastrophic flood of November 1966, the Arno burst its banks and ruined Florence: worst of all in a sense was the damage done at Santa Croce, where the Conventual Franciscans had only recently moved all their priceless artworks into a new museum, right at the lowest point on their property. It made me cry, I'm not ashamed to admit, to see Cimabue's ineffable Crucifixion, now restored as best several decades' work can do, but still parlously damaged. However, even thus, it is transcendently lovely: not all tears are in sorrow.

It took my breath away to see frescoes by Giotto, and fabulous mediaeval altarpieces. (But first, I finished off my morning Office.) I also venerated the sacred relics of Blessed Humiliana, praying her for myself and for Fr Terence (since the church belongs to his order).

On I went at last, and had some superlative gelati - excuse the Fr Z riff - of mulberry, cherry, bitter orange and rice pudding (!) flavours.

I found the Badia Fiorentina is now a centre of worship for a new community (the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem, to be precise), so before the Blessed Sacrament exposed I prayed some more. Ad te, Domine, animam meam levavi...

Then to my joy the Orsanmichele is open again, so I could go pray the Madonna delle Grazie: beauty and truth have met in her.

I saw the famous statuary outside the Signoria, then went back to my hotel for a rest...

This afternoon and evening, I visited San Carlo de' Lombardi, where also I found Exposition - I think Florence is having a religious revival of sorts - and S. Maria de' Ricci, built in expiation of a mediaeval sacrilege (a nobleman defaced Our Lady's image, but repented, just before he was justly hanged) and site of a more recent sacrilege and miracle (a vandalized crucifix shewed a sudden wondrous transformation of its face into a verisimilitude of the Man of Sorrows).

[I'm running out of time, and may have to publish this now.]
To be continued...

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