Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Choirs, a Tree Lighting and a Singing Monk ~ December in Assisi

I had arrived in Assisi the previous afternoon, and already I had had an amazing time in Assisi, with the Christmas Festa going on. Now, I was now off to a concert at Santa Maria degli Angeli, with my new friends Franca and Edna. 

Franca took us down to the basilica, in her car. Normally, they are pretty strict about not taking pictures inside but with a concert about to start, they were not enforcing that. Woohoo!!!

Until this trip, I'd never heard of this singing friar that we were about to see, but I was getting the idea that he was pretty popular around there. His name, as you can see below, is Friar Alessandro Giacomo Brustenghi. 

The friar would be singing with a choir in front of the Porziuncola, which is that little chapel you see, inside of the big church. 

This is an incredibly important and sacred place, because it was given to Francis in 1208 to re-build, and it became the first home of his followers. Just to the right of the little chapel, a few yards away, is where Francis let go of his suffering body, and died in October of 1226.

It's quite tiny inside the small chapel (5.5 x 3.2 m.) and on a normal day, people wait to go inside to sit and pray. I took my parents there in 2010 and it was one of my mom's favorite places. You really can imagine being back in time ... one of his followers, praying before the beautiful icon of the Annunciation. It's quite moving and a wonderful place to say a prayer. It really feels sacred and is filled with an energy that is difficult to explain.

The Porziuncola was much too small to handle the throngs of pilgrims, pretty early on, so thus Santa Maria degli Angeli was commissioned. It was built to house all the many visitors and protect the Porziuncola inside.

The concert began and Friar Alessandro's voice was beautiful and his enthusiasm infectious. You can see him in the photo below... He's in front of the choir, just to the right of center, in front of the opening of the Porziuncola. 

I found him on Youtube and this is one of the songs he sang ... one of my favorites! (Much easier for you to see him!) And, you get to see lovely views around Assisi! :)

Here he is talking about the song, and he is so darling! Is that something you can say about a friar? Anyway, you will see what I mean!

Who are the happiest, richest people you know?
... These are the people who are living joyful, enthusiastic lives, 
regardless of their possessions
or lack of possessions.
These people possess something more precious than material goods.
They possess a spark of God
that radiates in all they do.
~Shoni Labowitz in Miraculous Living

Franca, on the left, and Edna, at the concert.

I've never been especially moved by Oh Tannenbaum, but for some reason when the choir starting singing it, I was nearly overcome with emotion. I got that sting in the back of my throat that you get when you're trying not to cry. I thought of my family and wished so badly that they could all be there with me, to experience it all ... the music, the place ... everything. 

We went back up the hill into Assisi and Edna and I headed to the Basilica of San Francesco. It was funny because when we first approached the basilica, I thought, what are all those people doing on the lawn?!

Turns out it was a life sized Nativity!

Nativity scenes and creches are an especially big deal in this area because, as the story goes, Saint Francis is thought to be the first person to create a living nativity. He did this in a town, in the Rieti Valley, called Greccio, that I visited with my parents in 2010. 

I explained some of the art history, inside the basilica, to Edna. My art history class was fresh in my mind at that point, and I explained about the cycle of Frescoes, done by Giotto and his school, that told of the most significant moments in the life of Saint Francis.

Edna was then off to have tagliatelle ai funghi with Franca. (They had gone mushroom picking that morning.) As delicious as that sounded, I didn't want to miss the tree lighting! 

The tree was below the upper basilica, near the entrance of the older, lower basilica, and there was a woman conducting a choir of school children.

I went below and stood with the locals, many being the parents of the school children.

The man, below, in the pink beanie (A bishop? Archbishop? No idea, since I'm not Catholic) told the story of Francis, the nativity in Greccio, and little baby Gesù. I strained my brain to understand the Italian, of which I caught little bits and pieces.

And then ... they lit the tree ...

And the children continued to sing. When they sang John Lennon's "Happy Christmas War is Over," ... 

... like magic ...

... snow flurries ..

It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

There had been a snow flake here and there but it was as if, right on cue ... Christmas had come and flurries surrounded us, glowing with all the lights ... 

As I walked up the hill, away from the basilica, I heard two young ladies speaking English. American English. Turns out they were Americans, living in Rome, but had come to Assisi for the day. (It's about two hours by train.) I ended up having a lovely dinner with them at a little restaurant on Via San Francesco, before heading back to the hotel. 

Charming shops, closed up for the night ...

I passed the big Festa tent in the piazza again and headed to my room. 

I called my parents and tried to explain to them how magical it had all been, and that I hoped we could all go there together for the Festa someday, and how there had been a singing friar, and snow flurries and children singing ... I'm sure I sounded like a 5 year describing their first trip to Disneyland. I was quite beside myself.

It all felt like being in a dream.

Here's one more song by
Friar Alessandro, singing Pater Noster.

He has an CD, and of course I bought it. It was in one of the little shops in the main piazza. It's on Amazon, here. You can also find more of him on YouTube, if you are interested.

To see my posts of Greccio, where Francis created the first living nativity, click here and here

To read and see more about the Porziuncola and Santa Maria degli Angeli, click here for the Sacred Destinations' site.

Enthusiasm is the greatest power.
For one endowed with enthusiasm 
noting in this world is impossible.
~The Ramayana

Blessings and light!


Loree said...

Now that must have been one truly magical and special evening. I can;t get enough of Assisi.

donna baker said...

That was really blessings and light, Lucinda. I could almost feel it too. Loved the videos.

Tammie Lee said...

I am so glad that you included him singing for us to hear. I was reading your post and looking at your photos and wishing i could hear the concert.
thank you for sharing this with us!

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I've just found out that my daughter and son in law are moving to Paris, so I'll definitely be going there and MOST definitely be taking side trips to Italy thanks to you! What a magical night and especially at Christmas. By the way, I think it's just fine for you to say that the Friar is darling!

Unknown said...

such beautiful pictures!!


jane said...

i just kept thinking how lucky you were to experience that. :) and feeling like a 5 year old again- even luckier.:)
big hugs!

Cobalt Violet said...

Thanks for coming by, lovely ladies! :)
So happy you got to experience the singing friar, at least on YouTube. Actually, it's easier to see and hear him on the video! ,

Anonymous said...

Hello Lucinda, love your post. I have not been in this region yet - but I should definitive go:-) Have a great week ahead, greetings from good old Germany, Inge

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