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Report 450: Saints and Flowers, Ham and Cheese: Seven Days in Norcia, Umbria

By Jeannew from PA, Spring 2003

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Page 4 of 8: Days 1 and 2, Arrival and a Walk to St. Rita's House

Day One: Thursday June 5, Arrival

Coming from Le Marche we elect to drive over the mountains into Umbria instead of taking the tunnel. We make a short side trip to the Piano Grande around Castelluccio to be rewarded with beautiful fields, some full of yellow flowers, others with red poppies, and still others with white and blue flowers. I jump out and snap photos before we move on, knowing that the sun is not always shining in these mountains. The remainder of the day is spent struggling with communication problems at Il Casale and looking at their alternate accommodations. A happy and delicious dinner at Granaro del Monte helps to compensate for our struggles with leaking windows and no hot water in our apartment.

Day Two: Friday June 6, A Walk to St. Rita’s House

We start the day with breakfast at “our” bar on the Piazza, then pack up and move into the Salicone. Next is a drive to the town of Cascia, about 30 minutes from Norcia. Cascia contains the Basilica of St. Rita and the convent where she stayed. At the base of the town is a huge parking lot with escalators and elevators to bring visitors up to the town proper. This is a very popular place for busloads of pilgrims, but visitors are light today.

It is lunch time and we grab some pizza slices to eat outdoors in the hot sun while watching large dark clouds gather over the nearby mountains. I desire something green so select a slice of pizza that appears to have white cheese, arugula, corn and tiny shrimp. The white cheese turns out to be mayonnaise, yuk! But I eat it anyway. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t get sick from this slice that had probably been sitting unrefrigerated for awhile, except that the high salt content may have acted as a preservative.

At the tourist office we get directions to the beginning of St. Rita’s path. It travels about 3 km through a steep valley to her birthplace of Roccaporena. The path is fairly flat, mostly shaded and runs along a ledge overlooking a small stream. Wildflowers abound and we are the only people we see on the trail. Closer to Roccaporena we take the bridge across the stream and walk along the road rather than follow the old section of trail that is no longer maintained. Our pace is quick because of distant thunder and threatening rain.

Once in Roccaporena we tarry awhile enjoying this town of small stone houses and simple churches surrounded by tall cone like hills. The few accommodations and shops for pilgrims do not detract from the otherworldly ambience. Public restrooms and a good sized parking lot would make visiting by car easy except perhaps during special pilgrimage events. We visit St. Rita’s matrimonial home which is now a shrine and sit for awhile to reflect on her life. We look at a scrapbook containing photos of healthy children and letters of thanks from grateful parents. Because St. Rita was once a wife and mother she is considered especially helpful in domestic matters. At a gift shop run by the nuns, we purchase some mementos for our Catholic friends. The nun also gives us 10 St. Rita prayer cards in English. They contain prayers for various occasions, including driving.

At a bar we have cold orange drinks and I am about to purchase tickets for the bus ride back to Cascia, not wanting to deal with the rain. Fortunately I ask what time the next bus is before I buy. It is not until the next day, so out we trek into the drizzle. My sun hat now becomes a rain hat and we move quickly to keep warm. By the time we reach Cascia, the rain has stopped. Returning to Norcia we get hot showers and have dinner in our room, watching crazy Italian TV shows. We write postcards, wash some clothes in the bathroom sink and put them on the balcony to dry overnight.

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