Update

March has been the most jam-packed whirlwind of a month in the history of…well, my life at least, but I think it’s in the running for the history of the world category as well. I have spent the night in 11 different cities in the month of March, in 4 countries, as well as a night on a train, and two nights on a ferry.

March 1 through 10 I traveled through Greece with my class, hitting up Olympia, Nafplion, Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Epidauros, Thessaloniki, and Meteora.

March 11 through 14 I attempted to pay attention in class, but actually was thinking about Greece, the papal elections, and Ten-Day/Spring Break. Yes, I was in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke went up. Yes, it wins the coolest moment of my life award.

March 14 I took an overnight train to Munich, and I’ve been traveling through Austria and Germany by train ever since, visiting Salzburg, Vienna, Munich, Cologne, and Berlin.

I can’t wait to sit down and go through all my notes from the past 22 days, and start writing again. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains, literally and figuratively. Get ready for this.

Art of Assisi

Immediately following the canonization of St. Francis in 1228, the construction of a church was begun in his honor in his hometown of Assisi. The entire complex, known as the Basilica di San Francesco, contains an upper and a lower church, as well as the crypt of St. Francis.

Upon entering the lower church, the visitor is inundated with an overwhelming collection of frescoes adorning any and every surface. On either side of the main part of the church are scenes from the life of St. Francis mirroring the life of our Lord: when Jesus is stripped of his garments in the moments leading up to his crucifixion, St. Francis is stripping off his clothes, denouncing his father.

The numerous frescoes were painted by a variety of artists: Giotto and Cimabue are the most famous names, but many more artists contributed as well. The more I looked around, the more details that popped out at me. One of the “filler” paintings (my own name for the strips of space that someone just filled in with a pattern between actual scenes or saint portraits) was filled with feathers, recalling the preaching of St. Francis to the birds. In another spot, there were some blue squares where normally a saint would be painted. Perhaps the reason for the blank canvas is due to the ongoing restoration following the 1997 earthquake that struck Assisi, but I like to think that the spots are beckoning us to be saints, and to live lives to fill the blue square.

Cimabue’s “Maesta,” with St. Francis to the side. Besides the portrait of St. Francis in Subiaco, this depiction is held to be the most true to life. The solemnity and simplicity of St. Francis draws your attention, as it contrasts with the grandeur of the rest of the lower church.

Here’s the grandeur I’m talking about. There are numerous lights in the between the columns of the altar that were lit up, too, while I was wandering around.

In stark contrast with the lower church’s intimidating grandeur is just down some steps on the left side of the main part of the church: the crypt of St. Francis. The simplicity of stone walls and the muted color scheme (brown, brown, and more brown) is like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, the lower church definitely earns a spot on my favorite churches list, but I think it’s good that the tomb of a saint that lived so simply is so simple.

The upper church’s main collection of frescoes is more coherent, all focusing on 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis. There are other frescoes in the church, but I didn’t really get a chance to look at these in great detail.

The Upper Church

I also paid Chiesa di Santa Chiara a visit, early Sunday morning. Two very impressive crucifixes reside here: the Crucifix of San Damiano and a crucifix for which I cannot find a name.

Crucifix of San Damiano

The Crucifix of San Damiano is housed in the Capella di San Giorgio, the entrance to which is on the right side of the church. This is crucifix that addressed St. Francis in the nearby chapel of San Damiano, saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” As we entered the chapel, the Poor Clares could be heard singing their morning prayers from the hidden wings off the sanctuary. I was surprised to find that the crucifix was very familiar; copies of this crucifix can be found in many places, including the UD Rome campus’s chapel.

The second cross dominated the simple interior of the main part of the church. It was larger than life, and at such an early hour in the morning, the only decoration lit up. The picture below really doesn’t do it justice. Definitely visit Santa Chiara twice: once when the crypt is open, and once around 7 in the morning, because that is Santa Chiara at its most dramatic.

Unfortunately, none of these places allowed me to take photographs inside, nor was the crypt of Saint Clare open.

Art of Subiaco

I promised my aunt I would take pictures of art, so here is the first in a series of posts revolving around that. Unfortunately, these are not my pictures: the frescoes I saw at Subiaco were in much better condition, having been recently restored. I took these photographs from the Subiaco Benedictine’s website.

Subiaco is the site of the cave St. Benedict lived for a few years in his young adulthood, around the year 500. The first communities he founded were set up in the area as well, and a monastery stands there today, built into the side of the mountain, around the cave. Known as Sacra Speco, it features an impressive collection of frescoes, adorning the walls of two churches and several chapels, painted in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries.

The fresco reminds the viewer that death (the flowing haired skeleton) can strike anyone at anytime. This photograph doesn’t show it well, but there is speech next to each character’s heads, so this fresco is one of the first comic strips.

I’ve never found an image of our Lady to be totally satisfying. I never find any of them to actually portray Mary as beautiful or natural or human. This photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s taken from a weird angle. She has a kind but knowing look in her eyes, just like every other mother on the face of the planet. I bought a couple of prayer cards with this image, and I study with one in view.

There is a rivalry between the Benedictines and the Cistercians (the Cistercians broke off from the Benedictines at the end of the 11th century), and the Benedictine fresco painters protrayed any bad monk in Cistercians garb (white habit with black scapular on top). One Cistercian is being punished, and another is being tempted by the devil in the doorway.

This portrait of St. Francis was painted during his lifetime, because the inscription reads “Fr. Franciscus” and he was widely believed to a be saint immediately following his death. Indeed, he was canonized only two years after his death.

Happy Stupid Birthday to Me

I had big plans: my birthday was the first Friday in Rome, and there was no class and no other orientation obligations of any sort. So what if an 8am class was scheduled for Saturday? My grand plan looked something like this: go into Rome for a morning run with one of my guy friends (who’s a part of the running club back at school), freshen up back at campus, then head out to take Rome by storm.

Remember what I said about flexibility…first, a scavenger hunt was reschedule to Friday afternoon because of weather. I quote myself: “I’m not doing some stupid scavenger hunt on my stupid birthday.” Then, class was rescheduled to Friday morning.

Okay, cool. Guess I’ll just go into Rome, convince people to hang out with me instead of scavenging, and stay in the city later. Nope. The Roman transportation workers go on strike every once in a while, just to remind everyone what would happen if they aren’t paid or whatever. And they decided Friday, January 25, was the day to do just that.

So, great. At least school was providing transportation in and out of the city for the scavenger hunt. My team was easily persuaded to go off and not scavenge; I tried gelato and saw St. Peter’s with my glasses. I did the whole look at the ground until you get to the middle, which was fantastic. St. Peter’s in detail. For my birthday. What.

St. Peter's: Please note the glasses.

St. Peter’s: Please note the glasses.

We explored some more churches along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, including Santa Maria in Vallicella, Sant’ Andrea della Valle, and Il Gesu.

Barocci's The Visitation. My art history professor is cited on the Wikipedia page for Barocci, and I saw her exhibit on the altar piece painter at the St. Louis Art Museum over winter break, where my Barocci obsession was ignited.

Barocci’s The Visitation. My art history professor is cited on the Wikipedia page for Barocci, and I saw her exhibit on the altar piece painter at the St. Louis Art Museum over winter break, where my Barocci obsession was ignited.

Basilica di Sant' Andrea delle Valle has my favorite altar pieces so far, depicting the martyrdom of the apostle Andrew. He's being crucified on the left, his death is the center, and on the right he is being taken down. Expect to see a lot of altar pieces here...it just blows my mind how someone can paint something in a space so big.

Basilica di Sant’ Andrea delle Valle has my favorite altar pieces so far, depicting the martyrdom of the apostle Andrew. He’s being crucified on the left, his death is the center, and on the right he is being taken down. Expect to see a lot of altar pieces here…it just blows my mind how someone can paint something in a space so big.

A beautiful image of our Lady I found in Sant' Andrea della Valle, called "Madonna della Purità." It's a copy of another painting that can be found in Naples.

A beautiful image of our Lady I found in Sant’ Andrea della Valle, called “Madonna della Purità.” It’s a copy of another painting that can be found in Naples.

The ceiling of Il Gesu is so detailed they have a mirror so you can study it better. It was pretty dark, so I'm planning on coming back during the day.

The ceiling of Il Gesu is so detailed they have a mirror so you can study it better. It was pretty dark, so I’m planning on coming back during the day.

I did get to go on the first run of the semester, too, early in the morning before class. The run up the hill was awful. My stomach was complaining (probably all the celebratory brie cheese from the night before), and the road was not built for pedestrians: no shoulder, no sidewalk, and uneven ground. It ended up being more of a walk. On the way back down, though, the sun streamed over our shoulders, lighting up the valley below. The running felt like flying instead.

I love how much light matters. I’ve seen the Colosseum and St. Peter’s by both day and night, and that got me thinking about how other sights change depending on the lighting. I can’t wait to start studying paintings in art history, how the masters play with light, and to see Il Gesu by day,  and the Trevi Fountain by night.

I ended the day with an Italian beer, sitting in the lounge of the dorm. It was a little stupid, but mostly good. Most things are, I guess. The day, not the beer. The beer was all good.

A Letter of Intent

I, Maria Buckner, am embarking upon my first international adventure in a week. When I say study abroad, people ask the courtesy question of where? and I say, Rome, and I gush about how excited I am, and then I make some vague claim that I will try to keep in touch.

This is where the magic, I hope, will happen. In order to soak up the world, and squeeze every last drop out of my semester in Rome as I can, I need to write, and this is where I will do a majority of it. So, welcome, welcome to all newcomers to Climb Ev’ry Mountain. I’ve been here since April of 2012, off and on, quietly, anonymously soaking in the world.

Now, as you can see from the first line, I have gone public. And my intention is to post once a week. I followed a lot of the blogs of classmates who went last semester, and posting was sparse. Understandably so, seeing as the University of Dallas Rome program does not have time or room for fluff. My schedule involves 15 credit hours, a volunteering gig tutoring Italian schoolchildren in English, and a work-study job. Other priorities include running/hiking/walking/generally moving, deepening my interior life & growing in my faith, and being a good friend. Actually climbing a mountain over there might be cool, too. But this blog isn’t fluff, and hopefully my roommate & fellow blogger, Allie Sue Goes Abroad, will help hold each other somewhat accountable.