Alternative Spiritual Formation in the Italian Piedmont & Tuscany

Soon after I announced this summer’s spiritual formation trip, a full slate of travelers had signed up.  (A “full slate” means small–a half-dozen or so, a dozen at the most. ) So we’ll be eleven, myself included, focused on “alternative communities.” We’re headed to the Italian Piedmont and Tuscany.

Sunset Arno River Florence Italy

Sunset over the Arno in Florence, Italy

With Roman Catholicism as a backdrop,  “off-the-beaten-track” sites will populate the foreground. Santa Caterina del Sasso, Damanhur, and Torre Pellice will be starting points in the north.  What are they? A lakeside hermitage, an earth-centered ecovillage, and home of the Waldensian church, respectively.

Waldensian Museum, Library and Cultural Center, Torre Pellice, Italy

Waldensian Museum, Library and Cultural Center, Torre Pellice, Italy

 

Then we’ll head to the Ligurian coast and Tuscany for familiar stops in Pisa and Lucca.

Ligurian Coast near Rapallo

Then the English community of Bagni di Lucca (a hot springs resort that became a WWI refuge), and Nomadelfia, a Roman Catholic commune (that began as an orphanage), will remind us of many ways of putting faith into practice.

Altar to Minerva, Fiesole

Altar to Minerva, Fiesole

Finally, a few days in Florence  & Fiesole will provide glimpses of Roman and Etruscan ruins, reformer Savonarola’s cell, and the historic Jewish community. Such alternatives have existed for centuries on a peninsula primarily known in the US for the influence of St. Peter’s.

If you missed this opportunity, keep a trip in mind for the future. What will be next year’s itinerary?  Think about it . . . . And then let me know. It only takes an idea–and a handful of interested travelers.

 

Italy: A Recent Group Experience

This past spring  I met several times with a group of adults in preparation for a pilgrimage to Italy. With a theme of syncretism, or the blending of faith traditions, I shared with them information about Americans traveling to Italy in the 19th century. Details about popular authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe initiated the discussions. However, lesser-known figures, such as newspaper correspondents Margaret Fuller and Anne Hampton Brewster, added to the diversity of experiences. These writers took to Italy varied views of religious traditions–whether New England Protestantism, the “new” Transcendentalism, or Roman Catholicism. However, all were changed by what they learned of another culture’s traditions while abroad. Something similar was in store for the contemporary group of adults.

A Thematic Itinerary

After the initial gatherings, the group set out on a ten-day trip.  A uniquely-organized itinerary distinguished the days from a typical vacation tour. The itinerary’s way points included Rome, La Verna, Ravenna and Venice. Most important, however, was the group’s aim: deepening travelers’ knowledge of western religious traditions and the influences of political situations upon them.

A Co-leader

The group journey was co-led with Dr. John White, Professor Emeritus of Loyola University, Chicago. Because his strengths include early Christianity, his insights lead the group to several lesser-visited sites in and around Rome. These included Constantia’s Mausoleum, Santa Pudenziana and San Stefano Rotundo. Their mosaics and architecture reflect beliefs much different from those of religious sites designed in the Renaissance and afterward. The group’s interests in the social activism of Saint Francis of Assisi took us off the beaten path to the Sanctuary La Verna, a site associated with his early spiritual experiences. This mountaintop retreat in Umbria provided a place of respite and reflection following the packed days among Rome’s urban chaos.