How to Get Rid of Nuisance Demons

The frescoed lunettes, painted by Domenico Manfredi from Camaiore, and decorating the cloister of the ex-monastery of San Francesco at Borgo a Mozzano are an utter delight with their naïve but felt devotion. Each lunette represents an episode in the life of Saint Francis who, like the present Pope his namesake, is a quite revolutionary figure in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

For example, Saint Francis entered into dialogue with other world religions. Here he is having a chat with the Muslim Sultan of Egypt.


What a conversation it must have been! Again, the example is today for all of us to follow: dialogue is the only way forwards whether it be in politics, religion or day-to-day social relationships. Without it nothing is possible and lack of dialogue can only lead to confrontation and worse…

When I took a look at the cloister yesterday a restorer of the frescoes was busy at work. For over two years now the lunettes are being brought back to their original bright colours and any damage to them is being conservatively repaired.

Here is a lunette before restoration:

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And here it is after restoration:

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An artistic cataract operation, in fact!

One lunette has revealed a miraculous banquet – miraculous because Francis performed a later version of the gospel loaves and  fishes when he found the monastery larder was empty:

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I bet the cat in the middle of the refectory floor must have been glad that the fish suddenly multiplied. He certainly looks it!

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Francis seems to have had an extraordinary propensity for wide-ranging dialogue. He also, as is well-known, preached to the birds and also had to encounter animals of a very different appearance. Here is a lunette showing Francis in the middle of a horde of diabolical creatures. The caption reads that Francis was faced with these unattractive figures sent by the devil, but with the sign of the cross managed to send them packing. How great it would be for us to be able to do the same with all those tedious people we have to deal with!

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However, if you want to get rid of any blue devils there’s no better place to do so than at Ponte a Moriano tomorrow, for from 11 am tomorrow there’s a blues festival happening there. Can’t miss that!


The friars departed in 1983 but if you wish to live in the monastery you’ll have to be of a certain age: the place is now an old folks’ home…


I’m Not Dreaming of a Pink Christmas

It’s strange how most of the main features of the English Christmas turn out not to be particularly English at all!

Reading Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, that quintessential definition of Christmas, one certainly finds a lot of Christmas Spirit which happily overcomes Scrooge’s long-standing Humbug opinion. But several other features are missing. Scrooge, for instance supplies the main Christmas fayre which is a goose, rather the more usual turkey one finds today which is really an import from American Thanksgiving Day. In Dickens’ story there is no Christmas tree, which is a German import introduced by Prince Albert who pined for his traditional Coburg-Gotha festive tree dressing. There is no mention of receiving Christmas cards in Dickens’ tale, which is not surprising as these only became popular towards the later part of the nineteenth century, with an improved postal service. And as for Christmas crackers and funny hats…..


The latest import into the English Christmas is of recent date and may not have found its place in every home celebrating Christmas. This is the nativity crib representing the scene of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the arrival of the Three Wise Men together with many extra characters showing traditional crafts and, of course, including the shepherds and their flock. The reason for the crib’s late import into the English Christmas is perhaps the fact that its origin is due to Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy, the home of the papacy and the Roman Catholic faith.

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Thomas of Celano, biographer of this extraordinary man, stated that “having brought in a manger he carried in some hay, together with an ox and an ass. There he honoured simplicity, exalted poverty, praised humility and Greccio transformed itself almost into a new Bethlehem”.

It was, in fact a living crib such as we, in our part of the world, will be delighting in at nearby Granaiola tomorrow from 1 pm to 7.30 pm (the actual “nativity will take place at 5 pm).

All this first happened in 1223 in, as mentioned, Greccio, a beautiful little town near Rieti in Lazio which is on my list of soon-to-see places.

 For many years Bagni di Lucca’s main industry was the production of plaster of Paris statues and many of these statues were Christmas crib figurines. The industry has shrunk considerably from its heyday in the last century when the bagnaioli emigrated to all parts of the world to sell their wares. (Indeed, one story, depicted on the ceiling of our local town hall, shows a bagnaiolo selling one of his figurines as a souvenir to Christopher Columbus when he first landed in the Americas!)

In that ghastly stretch of ribbon development fronting Diecimo, mentioned here , I saw what must be one the ghastliest edifices in this bit of road…and painted in a sickly pinkish violet!

The sleazily Xmas entrance was not prepossessing and the name of the shop was also not too promising.

I decided to embolden myself and enter.

I’m glad I did for what I saw thumped me with the Christmas spirit in all its force.

If one lacks Christmas crib figures this is the place to go to and what’s more they are not Chinese imports but all made by a local firm, Euromarchi, at very reasonable prices.

I found out that the premises had been empty this year and Euromarchi decided to rent them for a couple of months during the Christmas season as an outlet for their wares which are otherwise hidden in a factory on a side street.

The staff was most obliging and showed me also their working crafts – truly working since each diorama has electric motors which cause their occupants to hammer or saw or pull up a pail.

There are also lots of other Christmas decoration items to choose from.

I didn’t buy anything – our mantelpiece is too small for any further additions to our display on it but I was delighted by this shop which promised so much behind its unpromising facade.

PS Euromarchi’s web site is also in English at




Howl, Howl, Howl, Howl, Howl

Last night RAI TV gave us one of its all-too-rare highlights: a live broadcast of Dario Fo’s monologue (first issued in 1999)  “Francesco Lu Santo Jullare”, (Francis, the holy jester), which, at age 88, he delivered with amazing energy and panache in his own creative Italianate dialect (e.g. “permissione instead of “permesso”, “papéo” instead of “papa” etc.).


Nobel Prize winner in 1997, Fo is famous for his satires on politics, religion, the police, the family and other Italian institutions. This time, however, he had a kind word to say about the present Pope Bergoglio, starting from his name, the first time a Pope had dared to call himself “Francis” (which was a name used for the first time ever by Francis’s family and which means “son of the French woman” since Francis’ mum came from France). Like St Francis, Fo drew parallels with Bergoglio’s wish to live in relative poverty, using an “old banger” as a means of transport, his attachment to simple accommodation, his proverbial understatements, his queueing up for his meal at the vatican lunchtime canteen, his abhorrence of high finance, indeed, of money, in any form –  a theme which recurs week after week in Bergoglio’s “udienze”.

Proceeding from the first pope Fo had anything positive to say about, the great actor, playwright, producer, author, supreme commedia dell‘artista, went on to describe incidents from the life of St Francis against vivid painted backcloths of almost neo-gothic symbolism. Fo’s aim was to present Francis, warts and all, free from the iconographic cleansing of the Council of Narbonne and later hagiographers who, finding the real St Francis too much to take, attempted to turn him into a sentimentalised figure, more pleasing to the Church and less controversial.


One incident narrated in Fo’s multi-charactered monologue related to that famous wolf he meets in Gubbio:

Francis persuades the raw-lamb-and-goat-meat loving wolf to become a more “moderate” beast. Perhaps the wolf, himself, wanted to become more “civilised”, to bark rather than howl and turn into man’s best friend – in other words to domesticate himself, become part of a congregation instead of remaining a lone outsider.  Noticing that shepherds killed and ate their lambs at Easter “in honour of God” (as they still do in Italy today – roast lamb is not a common dish here except at Christ’s resurrection feast), the wolf pleaded provocatively with Francis (Fo’s howling-barking simulation of the conversation between man and beast was here particularly masterly) to turn him into a “moderate” man so that he could legally eat meat!


Those who have read “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis” will know the end of the story. The wolf renounces his savage slaughter, is adopted as Gubbio’s city pet, becomes as meek as a lamb, is given free luncheon vouchers until the end of his life when he is accorded a solemn burial.

I thought of this part of Dario Fo’s brilliant monologue, particularly as there are several shepherds in these parts who take a very different view regarding wolves. For example, noticing his flock steadily decreasing one local shepherd even took the expedient of setting up a CCTV camera. Replaying the recording, the horrified man noticed the unmerciful slaughter of his animals by a wolf who carted off an average of one lamb per night.

There was nothing this shepherd could do. Unlike wild boars, wolves are protected species in Italy, and for anyone to “cull” the ancestral dog would amount to hefty fines or even imprisonment,

What do we do then? I am reminded of a shark-infested beach in Queensland Australia where, after several bathers had lost limbs or even their lives at the teeth of the primitive monsters of the deep, the authorities decided to step in and kill off the sharks to allow safe bathing. Did this make the bathers happy? Quite the opposite! There were large protests on the beaches against the authorities for interfering with nature!

Did Francis interfere with nature? What was the real message of his meeting with the Wolf of Gubbio? Can wildness be tamed whether it appears in animal or human form? Can two opposed species manage to speak the same language? Can the lion lie down with the lamb?

I look around me and see that once domesticated and cultivated landscapes are being abandoned to unbridled natural re-forestation, that the birds are reclaiming their woods after years of persecution by the rifle and that by full-moon-light I can hear the faint ululation of wolves repopulating the mountain tops after having wandered here along the Apennines all the way from Calabria and La Sila through the Abruzzi. At the same time my wife has noted that at full moon I seem to her to appear to become more hairy and lycanthropic…