Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Trad Catholic Holiday

Benedict Ambrose and I are soon going on holiday to Italy. I have studied earthquake survival tips, for we are going to Norcia, the town in Umbria near the epicentre of the St. Bartholomew's Day disaster.

By the way, it turns out you are NOT supposed to stand in a door frame. If in bed, you stay in bed and hide your head under a pillow. If out of bed, you dive under a sturdy table and hang onto the leg. If outdoors, you stay outdoors as far from decorative elements and shaky walls as possible. When the quake is over, you go outside because suddenly buildings are not your friends. During the 6.2, the Nursini fled to the piazzas.

This may sound rather stressful for a holiday, and you may well wonder why we do not return to the beaches of Santa Marinella instead. Well, the answer is simple: the Monks of Norcia. We want to go to the Extraordinary Form of the  Mass with the Monks and hear the Monks sing the Traditional Benedictine Offices. We also want to drink the monastery beer, and see what is new in the monastery shop, and contemplate the statue of St. Benedict in the piazza.

St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica were born in Norcia in 480. A shrine was later built over their birthplace, and Benedictines first came to live here in the 10th century. One Benedictine community or another lived in Norcia until the Napoleonic suppression. The monks were driven out, but almost 200 years later, the Nursini petitioned for their return. (See my article here, with the correction that the monks are celebrating Mass and praying Vespers in the Scavi, not the crypt.)

Norcia's tourist industry--which took a big hit, thanks to the earthquake--centres on the wonderful produce, wine and cured meats of the region. It is on a plane surrounded by hills, just adjacent to the Sibylline national park (yes, where the Sibyl lived), so it also attracts hill-walkers and fresh air fiends. Benedict Ambrose and I both love regional Italian food, and we both enjoy hill-walking, so Norcia provides us with many opportunities to share our mutual interests.

Of course, I am not quite as excited by the Offices at B.A. is. For our Norcia Christmas I bought him a monastic diurnal, which was the perfect present, but I haven't got one for myself yet. Benedict Ambrose is a church musician through and through, so he takes a special artistic as well as spiritual joy in monastic chant. Me, I'm still exulting in the fact that I'm married to such a good Catholic. If this means I'm in church more often than I like, so be it.

For his part, the language study-adverse B.A. actually exchanges greetings in Italian. He even used his small store of Italian vocabulary to buy my Christmas present, which meant more to me than the thoughtful gifts!

Norcia is a good place to celebrate Christian Christmas if you loathe the trappings of the secular jamboree. Christmas is not the principal midwinter feast in Italy; their big day is Epiphany. B.A.'s idea of the perfect Christmas is romantic solitude in the countryside, and my idea of the perfect Christmas is being surrounded by family and friends, so Norcia--a favourite retreat of Rome-based friends--provided a bit of both. I recall the Norcian December as cold (but not too cold, unless the heating is off) and a little noisy--as children kept setting off firecrackers in the piazzas--but friendly.

There is at least one crook--there's a café I like, but in future I won't be paying with notes any larger than I can possibly help--but the vast majority of townsfolk seem gracious, not grasping. I was horrified that the 6.2 quake affected them, deeply relieved that none of them were killed, and determined that Benedict Ambrose and I would return and give them our business again.

What Norcia is like in the autumn, I do not know, but I am looking forward to finding out!


  1. Wow, that sounds amazing! Norcia has been added to my list of places I want to visit . . . if only I had a husband who wasn't adverse to traveling-sigh!!

  2. This is perhaps controversial, but any chance you could get permission to travel a bit on your own?

    1. I wish!! :) I have for a night here and there, to see family and go on a women's retreat, but he really hates being separated from me overnight . . . which is really sweet, so hard to get frustrated with. :)

    2. Aww.... Yes, I see. Well, this is a teachable moment for Single readers. Yes, they would rather be married and never travel again but.... Er.... No, seriously, Singles: travel now!