ST. CATHERINE, WINE COUNTRY AND MANGIAR DI VINO: THIS WAS THE DAY THE LORD MADE
Very late Tuesday evening I posted a brief note about my second full day in Umbria with the wonderful women of WINE, noting that I had risen at 5:30 am and, after our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond, arrived back at my Assisi hotel at 11:30 pm, too devoid of both time and energy to write about what I called “The Day the Lord Made.
I hope to finally bring that day to life for you.
Interspersed throughout this column are some of the photos I took in Siena and, if time allows, I’ll create a slideshow of the beauties of the Umbrian countryside as we drove to the wine country of Montalcino and the Banfi winery estates (the larges continuous private estate in Europe, according to our guide). If not today, tomorrow.
(A word about the larger photos at the end. They came in an email from Sharon Wilson and I love the size. I have not yet found a way to make the photos that I have downloaded from my camera a larger size)
WINE, as you may know by now, is Women In the New Evangelization. Twenty-five women joined Kelly Wahlquist, WINE founder, and Teresa Tomeo and me for this first-ever WINE trip to Italy to explore the great and glorious women saints of this beautiful land. My role in this pilgrimage was principally the first part of the itinerary – the Umbrian days of Assisi, Siena, Norcia, Montalcino and Cascia – although I’ll have some encounters with the group in Rome.
The basilica of St. Dominic in Siena – the head of St. Catherine is enshrined here – no photos allowed. I had already taken a picture of this stained glass window before I knew that:
I’ve had a chance for personal encounters with some of the women as we journey on the bus through Umbria, walk through the medieval home towns of saints we know and love or dine together on exquisite dishes from Umbria – homemade pastas, wild boar as a main course or fettucine sauce, porchetta, and gorgeous fresh vegetables and fruits. And, of course, delicious wines, including a wine-tasting lunch in Montalcino after our visit to Siena.
I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the spirit and character of the women I have met from Nebraska, Minnesota, Florida and points beyond. As stories were told, I heard and saw women of immense faith, women who are, want to be and will be in the forefront of the new evangelization, in ways large and small, in their families, hometowns and perhaps even well beyond.
I have walked and dined with women of courage. Some had heartbreaking stories. Many have led fairly average lives with the usual highs and lows, the joys and sorrows of married life or single life. Some had had spiritual crises, were away from the faith and then returned with a vengeance, with a renewed spiritual fire. Others never lost that fire.
St. Catherine was one of 24 children, the daughter of a dyer. They lived in a very large house. These photos were taken in the inner courtyard:
There were two common denominators in all stories: faith and joy.
The chapel in which St. Catherine took her vows.
After all, as was noted in several conversations, St. Paul has exhorted us to always be able to explain the reasons for our joy, our hope, our acceptance of suffering. In fact, he told Romans in 5: 3-5: “… but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
These three pictures depict what was once the kitchen of this large house:
Joy and laughter and sharing with a smile – these were always on the faces of the women, wherever we were, on the bus, in restaurants, in a church.
The outside of the house in which St. Catherine grew up:
We prayed the rosary on the bus, we sang hymns (and many other songs), and we sang grace before meals one night as we enjoyed a picnic supper one night on the terrace of Grand Hotel in Assisi. (see video) As we watched the sun set over Assisi, we listened to reflections by Kelly and also interspersed her thoughts with some of our own.
And this is what the women of WINE did each day. Each of us became stronger in our own faith because each of us was re-affirmed by the others.
What set Tuesday apart for 8 of us was the dinner we had at Mangiar Di Vino in Assisi, after a glorious day in Siena. The bus was to return to the hotel where most of the gals were staying in the hillside above Assisi. I wanted to return to my hotel in the center of Assisi and had planned on dining alone and then packing for our departure the next day but 5 of the women (we were late joined by two others) on the bus decided they too wanted to spent a last night in Assisi, not at the hotel.
The WINE bus left us off at a small square where we got a small city bus (a separate story if I had time to tell!) to another square from which it was a four-minute downhill (a VERY important word in Assisi, Siena and Cascia) walk to the main Assisi square and the nearby restaurant.
We lucked out as there was a table for 6 on the small terrace – it was a lovely night and we wanted to eat outdoors. The first thing we noted as we sat down was our paper placemats. They had a design that looked like it was created by children and soon we noted the drawings were of chalices and there was the Holy Spirit nin the upper left corned and then the words, in Italian and English “I am the Vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me….”
How beautiful! Can you imagine such a thing happening in the U.S., unless it was in a Catholic home or a church rectory?! There is a story behind the mats which I intend to discover and share with you. Our waitress gave each one of a new placemat to take home!
Unexpectedly, two more of the WINE women, Jody and Kelly, found us at Mangiar Di Vino and sat near but not at our table as there was no more room. They, however, sat next to a couple (he was Italian, she was Russian) and began an animated conversation that lasted throughout dinner.
The name of the restaurant is more or less a play on words. Mangiar is from mangiare, to eat or dine and Di Vino can mean ‘divine’ or ‘of wine.’ Thus, Mangiar Di Vino (Eating Divinely) or ‘Dining and Wine.’
For us it was a divine experience.
The food was divine and the conversation ever so stimulating. We spoke of WINE, the Church, our faith, our personal journeys, how the Lord is calling each of us, and so much more.
Early in our meal, a priest and a nun arrived at the restaurant, eating indoors as there was no room on the small terrace. I greeted the priest in Italian and he responded. They finished their meal before we did and, as they exited the restaurant, the Father turned, looked at me for a few seconds and then said, slowly, with a smile, “EWTN….”
The gals all said ‘Yes’ in unison and one told me to ask him for a blessing. It turned out he was Spanish and so I asked in Spanish and he came to our table and gave the whole group a beautiful blessing in English.
Two strangers entered out lives and excited almost as quickly but left an indelible mark with each of us, as we commented then and throughout the day yesterday. (You can vaguely see them inside the restaurant in the group photo I posted)
It was now our turn to say to leave, to say “buona notte,” “sweet dreams,” and “see you tomorrow.”
It was then that I noticed the floor mat next to our table:
Today was indeed “A Day the Lord Made”