Three strikes of the brass bell. Each strike rattles the frame that holds the bell, sending vibrations into the soles of my boots. Although my feet tingle, they steady and relax into the stone floor. Then comes the ding, as the little brother or sister trying to impress. Only one. It’s 3.15. I give myself half an hour in the Temple of Minerva.
Built in the first century BC as a Roman temple to worship Mars, it was converted in the 16th century to what is today the St Maria Sopraminerva Church.
But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate this place. Sitting in the musty silence, the energy is breathtaking. Grounding and still, with an undeniable strength and dignity that permeates the space. The few wooden pews for 20 or so people are dwarfed by statues gilded in gold leaf of saints, cupids and angels, and columns that support a basic, sarcophagus shaped altar. Colourful frescos adorn the ceiling and pink and orange gerberas sit at the foot of the altar, both adding to the temple’s heart.
Thankful and appreciative to be alone, l shut my eyes and succumb to the wooden seat that supports me. I breathe deep the air of chalk and stone and prepare to soak in every miniscule of everything I can.
Light humming creeps into my ears. My body relaxes, limbs become heavy and soon, l don’t feel them. Another deep breath and a comfort begins to sweep in, triggering an insatiable desire for more.
Although l don’t feel my legs, my left achilles starts to ache, probably from the last four weeks of walking over old cobble stones. My right foot follows in sympathy with a tenderness at the base of my big toe, possibly bruised from climbing the many hills and worn stairs.
But for all the aches, there has been much fun and laughter, crazy falls over slippery and unsuspecting ice, and reminiscing and reconnecting with family. Much food and wine too, way too much.
Another deep breath, a sense of calm washes over and my whole body feels as if it is hovering.
Hes, shes and theys weave in and out, become liquid thoughts of laughter with family and new friends. So much warmth, even in freezing temperatures of snowmobiling under a polar sun and late night scouting for the dancing night lights of the polar north.
My body becomes weightless, I’m unable to feel it. Thoughts are random and mixed, come and fade to nothing, become as fluid as the snowfalls of little balls as we walked up mountains, and as the streams of tears of goodbye.
Three more strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, and two dings.
Thoughts move in and out, linger in a space of infinity and drift.
Here, in this tiny town of goodness and grace, everything is different. The water is crisp, fresh and untainted, lunch earlier of short cannelloni filled with veal and ricotta tossed in a pumpkin and truffle sauce, the Chianti … the flavours are distinct and clean, as gentle and pure as the people in this town and the monks and nuns walking the streets. Calmness and cleansing exude as profusely as the black and white scenes of snow-laden Alps viewed from the train a week earlier.
It’s a purity that can’t be described. It’s more to be savoured as the most sought after wine or chocolate, or softness of the most pristine mountain water.
It’s a calmness in the air, as if the place has its own cone placed over the top to exist in it’s own ecosystem, even with a blustering wind over the Rocca Maggiore on the hill top, a fortified feudal castle from the 1100s AD. The climb today to the top will test my legs in the morning.
This place is like stepping back in time. Not for its life, material value or amenity, more in the goodness and giving of people. In a world full of materialism and self adoration, this place is a haven for old fashioned good.
Another three strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, followed by three dings.
I ease my eyes open, taste my mouth as if just waking. I’m surprised by where l am and realise I must have drifted to somewhere else. A scan around me reveals no one.
It may be time to get back to my travelling buddies but l will return.
Assisi, you have my heart.