When I first started studying Italian, a friend had given me a copy of a gourmet magazine. The feature article was about Tuscany so the issue was filled with photographs and recipes. Not being much of a cook, I concentrated on the photos.
I kept going back to look at one photo in particular. The photo caption was vague, simply stating “a picturesque abbey in Tuscany”. There was something compelling about the abbey. So much so, that I cut the photo out before I tossed the magazine.
Now, I have to say, that at the time I was a “refrigerator door virgin”. I wasn’t fond of what had become the customary use of a refrigerator door as a galleria d’arte. . .an easel for family notes, photos and kitschy magnets. My door was pristine until that photo came into my life. Completely captivated, I was being drawn in by the honey-colored stone and simple but beautiful Romanesque architecture. The abbey was becoming a constant in my daily routine.
Many months later, on a Sunday morning in Florence, I left the Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci to meet Jacopo. He was a handsome, young tourism entrepreneur who was on the verge of making his mark on the Florence business scene. That morning, however, he was going to give me my first tour of the Tuscan countryside. The October day was postcard perfect. We drove over narrow roads through rolling golden hills dotted with ancient towns. We visited Colle di Val d’Elsa, built high up on the bank of the river Elsa, Greve, a pretty market town in the heart of Chianti and Montefioralle, rated one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Jacopo had an evening appointment in Florence so by mid afternoon I suggested that we head for Pienza, our final destination. He insisted that we stop to see “one last thing”. We followed a winding road south of Montalcino. As we rounded a wide curve in the road, I looked to the right through a clearing in the overgrown shrubs. All at once, it appeared. My abbey! Right before me, sitting in a large clearing, the extraordinary Abbazia di Sant’Antimo.
I don’t think that I have ever been able to adequately describe what it was that I felt. Driving closer, I could not take my eyes off of Sant’Antimo. As I walked through the doors and down past the stone lions that flanked the steps, rays of late afternoon sunlight streamed into the church through the lancet windows above the large wooden crucifix on the altar.
I wasn’t shaking. More like quaking from the inside out. Standing in the center aisle, I felt as though a heavy woolen overcoat that I had been dragging around most of my life had dropped from my shoulders. My heart seemed to move up and expand out making room for the peace that was rushing in. I could not stop the tears.
Time seemed to shift from present to past. . .then back again. It was soothing to know that I was not alone in this.
For centuries, pilgrims had filled the abbey with their hearts and souls. . .dreams and prayers. I added mine to theirs.
Whenever I am in Tuscany, I return to Sant’Antimo. Every visit is different from the last but always resonant. An abiding chord. I believe that if you don’t get in the way, you can be brought to where you need to be. Destino? Destiny?
I am certain of one thing, il mio cuore vive lì dove Dio risiede. . . my heart lives there, where God resides.