“What on earth is a cinghiale?” you ask. Well, it’s a delicacy of Tuscan cuisine: wild boar. Siena, our destination today, has a pasta dish made with it that Steve likes. One small problem, our little restaurant doesn’t have it today. “If you had called ahead, Padre Stefano, we could have ordered it for you?” Such is life…
Our drive to Siena was on a comfy bus and we passed by Lake Transimeno, a large lake with three islands on it, one of which was a favorite spot of St. Francis’ to spend Lent. (Steve cautions against imitating this, as there is no place on the island to sit down, and in the summer there are insects there that we have never heard of, but it appears the insects love the delicacy of carne Americano.) We also passed by the hillside town of Cortona, home to the famous Franciscan penitent, St. Margaret of Cortona and the resting place of Br. Elias Coppi, the Minister General of the Order who supervised the construction of the Lower Basilica.
Siena is perched high on a hill — by now, this should come as no surprise as most cities of any power or affluence built on a hill for protection. Siena, which is in Tuscany, rivaled Florence for power and prestige, but eventually Florence won out and took control of the city.
Besides giving us the Sienese school of art (not so much a school as a building or institution, but more like a particular style of art), Siena is home to St. Catherine, one of three women saints to hold the distinction of being a “Doctor of the Church.” Catherine was one of 25 children and was a member of the Dominican Third Order. She was a mystic, a preacher, and a writer of no small means. She wrote to emperors, kings, priests, bishops, and most importantly the pope. (She persuaded the pope to return to Rome from Avignon.)
The Church of San Domenico (St. Dominic) is the resting place for St. Catherine’s head and thumb; the rest of her body is in Rome. The church is an excellent example of what Steve called, a “preaching church,” as it is ideally suited to hold large crowds of people to hear a homily or sermon.
Speaking of sermons, Siena is also famous for St. Bernadine of Siena, a Franciscan, and a preacher of world-renown. He is known for his promotion of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and throughout the city you see the symbol of IHS (the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek) against a blazing sun. You see this symbol everywhere in Siena. You also find Holy Name Societies in many Catholic parishes.
We then traversed to the center of town, the Campo, where twice a year, they race horses around the perimeter. The Campo is where everyone goes to hang out and it is dominated by a large municipal building with a very tall tower. The municipal building houses the Civic Museum, which has these magnificent murals by Amrogio Lorenzetti. The murals depict allegories of Good and Bad Government, etc. This was going to the the high point of my journey to Siena, but alas, the dreaded word, Ciuoso (closed). Today is a civil holiday, the ancient Roman start of the new year, and Italians figure it’s as good a reason to have a paid holiday as any other, so the Lorenzetti murals will have to wait for another day.
After a visit around some of the Campo side streets we walked to our restaurant, a charming small place with friendly owners and delicious food. Steve could not have his pasta with cinghale, but Nancy got him a hat that was the next best thing.
Following lunch, and lots of photos with Steve in the hat, we walked to the Duomo or Cathedral, which is the other focal point of the Siena skyline.
The cathedral is an example of the “More is More,” school of architecture. It is a magnificent structure, all the more stunning when you realize that what we have today was intended to be only one of the transepts of the cathedral. The Sienese had set out the build the largest cathedral in the world but ran out of funds before it could be completed. Because of the holiday, there were, you guessed it, hoards of young people swarming around the square in front of it, as well as many others on holiday.
We did not venture in the cathedral because we needed to return to Assisi and as Steve said, “It’s really dark inside. [You have also to pay an 8 Euro admission fee, ouch!]
We returned to the Casa where the staff served us a festive farewell dinner (this would be the last time that we would be eating an evening meal at the Casa as most of the group was going to Florence tomorrow (your scribe is staying in Assisi, thank you very much).