A real time update (5). John the Baptist

The image is from the Cathedral in Viterbo and shows John the Baptist baptizing a very young Jesus (which doesn’t tally with the gospel accounts).

Tuesday 26th June

Day 87

Distance from Canterbury 2035km approximately.

Yet again I’m somewhere with no wifi so I’m doing this quickly in a bar on my phone.

John the Baptist – yes the more astute readers will recognize that we celebrated the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist on Sunday. A very important person, indicated by the fact that his feast day takes precedence over the Sunday, which only happens one or twice a year. And further by the fact that he is the only saint, apart from Mary and Joseph, to have two feast days to himself. (I hope that’s right!) St Paul has two also but he shares one of them with Peter, coming up on Friday of this week. The Beheading of John the Baptist is celebrated on August 29th.

But I’m in the Parish of St John the Baptist tonight in Campagnano di Roma staying in a huge old parish centre with 60 bunks on an upper floor. The kindly parish priest told us we were here as his guests – that is what kindness and welcome mean he said.

A donation is optional. And the front door ‘never closes’. You sort of get used to this, but not completely. It is always special  and uplifting. On Sunday Pope Francis said the birth of John the Baptist is surrounded by ‘wonder, surprise and gratitude.’ After 87 days the kindness and generosity of strangers all along the Via Francigena still engenders wonder, surprise and gratitude. It is very humbling.

Some people may have read my post on Facebook last week from Bolsena when I mentioned that my phone was dead and would not charge and that all my camera batteries were flat too. I mentioned that Bolsena was famous for miracles in the past. Well things turned out well.

The Basilica in Bolsena has two associations. One is Santa Cristina who was martyred there in the third century – with great difficulty, let it be said, as she proved almost indestructible. She was eventually beheaded.

The other is a Eucharistic miracle. A sacred host in the hands of a priest ‘with doubts’ saying Mass there in 1263 dropped blood five drops of which stained the marble which is preserved. The altar of the miracle is preserved add is the catacomb in which Cristina was buried.

I went to 7pm Mass and add I left the church, after a final mooch around, a voice said ‘Are you Tim?’ ‘Yes’ I said, slightly puzzled to see two strangers who appeared to know me. Brendan, a Scot from Australia and Ruth from UK had recognized me from my picture on the blog, and from Facebook. Well done them! There are only two or three pictures of me! They are veterans of the Camino de  Santiago de Compostela and like me they prefer the quieter routes. And on this occasion they are travelling to Rome in a motor home and walking selected stages. And reading my blog! They invited me to supper and we had a most wonderful evening. It was an exceptional experience. Thanks again to them.

Next morning I woke in my ‘house of prayer’ dedicated to St Cristina and found the only other occupant, whom I had not met had gone. I celebrated Eucharist in the rather beautiful little chapel. Then I went for breakfast. I was in no hurry as the shop which maybe would fix my phone would open apparently at 9am. 9-ish anyway. In Italy, summer time for the clocks is called ‘legal time’ as opposed to ‘solar time’. I had had three cups of coffee and a nice brioche by 9, and had listened to Johnny Cash’s greatest hits in a very chic, but not expensive bar. I went to the shop but no sign of life. So I went back to the martyr’s tomb and prayed gently for a miracle for half an hour. Coming out I met a cheerful Nigerian man who hoped to sell me socks. I told him I didn’t need any but have him five Euros anyway. He had a Nigerian wife and four children in Rome whom he said were a big responsibility. But he seemed to bear it lightly. We exchanged notes enthusiastically on Nigeria. He is from Edo state in the mid-west. He liked Italy but had not found it a land flowing with milk and honey. But his cheerfulness was irrepressible. I asked him his name. Why was I not surprised when he said it  was Timothy ‘like the prophet’ he added with a slight stretch of Biblical history. We parted friends.

I went to the phone shop and got my phone sorted out. Wonderful. The phone is very important as an aid to navigation. Literally, I’d be lost without it.

After an hours walk, at a signpost, I found this.

Brendan and Ruth had left the message for me the previous day, on the off chance, and before we had met! If we hadn’t met, I wouldn’t have known who it was from! I’ll include a photo of them when the blog catches up  – it is not on myphone – which was dead at the time.

Bolsena – a city of miracles, wonder, surprise and gratitude.

All being well I should reach Rome on Thursday – in time for Saints Peter and Paul on Friday. My journey doesn’t quite come to an end then as I will explain in due course. The blog will return.

2 Replies to “A real time update (5). John the Baptist”

  1. These serendipitous meetings are one of the best parts of a pilgrimage, I think. I’m curious where you’re off to next! I hope later you will fill us in on the rest of the Francigena. I still hope to walk the Italian part someday! Glad you are OK.

  2. I have just returned from Iona, 30 of us from St Peter and Paul’s. What a beautiful place. Weather scorching. 9 of us did a four hour guided walk around the island. I thought of you and all the walking you have done. 4 hours was more than enough! Enjoy Roma. A .

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