Saturday, 1 December 2012

Sicilian Via Crucis

Less stiff in the limbs than I imagined I would be after last night's brisk exercise, I set out for another walk through town after breakfast. I decided to climb up above the Corso Umberto, as the main street through town is called, I discovered, to sample the view. Then I found and followed a signpost directing walkers up to the Saracens' Castle and the 16th century sanctuary of Madonna del Rocco, one of the town's patron saints. The winding footpath ascends in flights of steps another 400 feet above the town. It is laid out with the Stations of the Cross, with original cast metal sculptures. I photographed them and their surroundings as I climbed up.

The first station is at the top of the initial steep flight of stairs up from the town's by-pass or 'circonvallazione' in Italian. It winds up slowly with dozens of short flights of steps to the courtyard of the Sanctuary, where the fifteenth  (Resurrection) station is attached to the great rock which houses the church. It's built into a cave on the promontory, thirty metres below the castle. Hence, 'Our Lady of the Rock', associated with mariners' wives looking out for their return and praying, I guess. Two ladies were inside cleaning and chatting. A novena of prayer in preparation for the feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place a week today.

The mountainside is very steep. The ascending views over sea and town are spectacular, offering a perspective of street layout. Quite a different grand view inland rewards the climber on arrival at the Sanctuary. The countryside around Mount Etna can be seen up there, and the hill town of Castelmola above the valley behind Taormina. I climbed to the castle, but the gate was chained shut. All I saw up there was a few feral cats. An elderly gent in the car park below feeds them with dry cat food and talks to them.

I returned home for lunch, and afterwards chatted for a while with caretaker Salvatore as he was about to start gardening. Earlier, I'd chatted briefly with his wife Mima when we met in the town's covered market. The meat and vegetable stalls in there are a delight, although the building is rather ugly, like a warehouse, without any of the dignity or style to be found in the Spanish equivalent, But it serves its purpose, offering a superb variety of nice things to cook and eat.
Tea time I was visited by two charming young black American women Navy personnel. Both are on duty at the US naval base near Catania, in the community service program. An initiative has been taken to use a volunteer team from the base to work on the church garden. It's a place of interest because of its military historical links with British troops passing through Sicily on combat, and it gets lots of visitors in addition. Keeping the gardens in good shape is important, and no doubt Salvatore is pleased to have youthful workers to do the really hard physical stuff. 

After they left it was time to get ready for an evening journey to Messina to take part as an Anglican representative at a Messina diocese ecumenical Advent vigil service. I've been practicing reading my contribution in Italian ever since I arrived.

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