Though I was planning on a relatively laid back weekend for my family this, we ended up with on a rather action-packed journey that included the following highlights:
- A day of wine, cheese, and sausage tasting along the streets of the Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano, located midway between Florence and Rome. For me the significance of the town lies in the fact that its cantinas are situated upon ancient Etruscan tombs and other layers of history which you can go down and see after tasting some wine (and perhaps before tasting another on your way out of the building!)
- An beautiful cathedral and extensive Etruscan museum in the Tuscan town of Chiusi. The most striking part of this museum was its collection of funerary artifacts from 7th-9th centuries B.C. that still retained their color. When you see ancient ruins in color, it helps you imagine what alot of the marble and stone around the Mediterranean once looked like.
- Roman connections: because of our Catholic faith, the big city of Rome sometimes seems much smaller. For example, at lunch on Sunday I found myself eating lunch with a classmate from grad school in Florida (now a prof in Rome), a classmate from undergraduate studies in Illinois (now a priest), and a girl I met while doing campus ministry in Kansas (now my wife). When in Rome, my experience has been that things like this almost inevitably happen.
- Visiting a few Roman sites I don’t recall having ever entered before: Santa Maria degli Angeli church (formerly the baths of Diocletian), the Church of the Twelve Apostles (where St. Phillip and St. James the Less are buried), and the Casa Santa Maria (where wonderful nuns greet you to distribute canonization tickets, seminarians give tours around the grounds of the American church complex, and American priests are available for confession in English!) An added bonus at this last stop was entering the chapel to pray and having a priest saying a Novus Ordo mass in Latin facing ad orientem on a side altar. Beautiful.
- Papal mass of canonization for seven saints, including two Americans (perhaps most notably the Native American Kateri Tekakwitha). At this mass Pope Benedict XVI also revived a couple old liturgical customs. Read this piece by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf for an interesting take on the significance of Benedict’s moves.