I enter the old Romanesque church of Corsena, Bagni di Lucca’s original settlement above the town that started when the spa became truly international in the eighteenth century. Suddenly, to the right, I hear the call to arms played on the trumpet by a bersagliere with his characteristic helmet decorated with black capercaillie plumes.
Opposite him are cloaked members of a military-religious order. Between them and to one side of the altar is a portrait of a regally gracious lady. What’s happening this Sunday morning at Mass in Bagni di Lucca’s parish church?
Yesterday, in fact, three events were commemorated during morning service. First was the remembrance of all those who have fallen in world conflicts, and particularly since 1915, the year of Italy’s entry into the Great War, with the recitation of the nation’s prayer to the fallen:
Signore della storia, Dio della vita,
affidiamo a Te i nostri caduti
e tutte le vittime delle guerre e della violenza
che ancora insanguinano le nostre mani di uomini…………………..
Here is that bersagliere:
Second, was the commemoration of the visit of Italy’s first queen, Regina Margherita, to Bagni di Lucca in 1904 and where she prayed in this very church. Margherita, although married to Italy’s second King Umberto I, assassinated in 1900, remains the country’s first queen since the first king, Victor Emanuel II’s wife died before Italy was unified.
Here is the Queen’s portrait:
A wreath was placed below the memorial plaque at the entrance to San Pietro Corsena.
Third, and sadly unexpectedly, was the tribute to France and the unimagined slaughter of so many of its citizens just as they were enjoying a football match, having a convivial meal in a restaurant or enjoying a pop concert in one of Paris’ most famous venues.
The first reading was of verse 1 of chapter twelve of the book of the prophet Daniel. It seemed most apt:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
I thought of my own journey to three places associated with Saint Michael in Europe – all three places connected to each other by a virtually straight ley line: Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall:
Mont Saint Michel in France:
For which amazing sight I wrote this:
MONT SAINT MICHEL
Saint Michael, light’s archangel, ring with fire
the subterfugal dragon with your sword;
in heaven’s war lamed souls once more aspire
to walk the fragrant gardens of their Lord.
You speak from burning crests and keep the Word
creating sky and earth, the wind and sea;
and cast from north to south a line to gird
with strength this pilgrimage and set me free.
Beyond jade mountains lead, resist and fight:
your shrines are fortresses within men’s hearts
encased by swirling tide and gargoyled height,
enfolded in veiled clouds and shrouded arts.
Perfected force, revealing energy,
through your pellucid eyes at last I see.
And the Sagra San Michele in Italy:
May we contemplate ancient wisdoms and inwardly arm ourselves against any fears that may assail us in this, Europe’s most troubled time since the end of World War II.