So I near the end of my visit. The walk up to the Carceri on Saturday brought back so many memories - of the campsite (Fontebello) in which I stayed back in '77 and which I hardly recognised; of the Carceri itself, hanging on the edge of the mountain surrounded by dense forest, so quiet and timeless and where I spent time just being there.
Assisi itself is, of course, timeless and although Francis would not recognise the place (except for his home, now contained in a church; the portico of S. Maria Sopra Minerva, an ancient Roman temple and the old Cathedral of S. Maria Magiore, and a few other places) the city suffers from its glory. It is preserved, a timeless memorial that has been accorded World Heritage status by UNESCO (somewhat worse that English Heritage). And, once you stop development you run the danger of something dying. And whilst there is so much to celebrate about the place, it is sad that it has to be preserved. Tourists and pilgrims my benefit from the peace, beauty and 'spirituality' of Assisi, but it is at a cost, as is true for other places like this.
The walk up to the hermitage took 90 mins and seemed steeper than it did half a lifetime ago! The walk back, just 45 mins... I attended the evening's pilgrimage Mass and was once more moved by the singing and devotion and noted the number of young people who attended. There seems no dearth of young vocations to the Religious Life here and one can see others here to consider their call. It's all very impressive as was the procession to the Shrine at the end of Mass. Hundreds of people quietly walking round the tomb, most touching the stone, others wiping handkerchiefs against the walls (just as they did in the Acts of the Apostles). There are always people praying in the churches - how I wish that were true in England! (Of course, I speak of non-RC churches...) Those unknown moments when people are before God in silence - what is the heart saying?
On Sunday I joined the Anglican congregation for Mass at St. Leonard's. They were very hospitable and numbered about 20, many of whom were visitors, like me. Yesterday I walked to the Rocca Magiore, that great fortress which stands guard over the city and has done so since the time of Franc ('tho, again, he would not recognise the structure which was rebuilt in the 16th cent. by the Papal Legate when Assisi was part of the Papal States). I went on to the Cathedral of San Rufino to visit the simple Pieta which has moved so many people. Somehow it didn't quite make the same impression, but later I read that the original had been stolen in 1987...
So my time here, and in Italy, draws to a close. It has been a remarkable tour and quite fulfilled my intentions. I have seen some of the worlds greatest art and architecture and understood something more of the way it developed and the part Renaissance art played in the development of Europe. Today and tomorrow I shall just enjoy being here and enjoying the warmth and brightness of the place. I have been blessed by Brother Sun and watched Sister Moon each evening. And I am grateful to all those who have made this time possible.