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More art rescue and a very pointed question

The vigili del fuoco rescuing precious art works from the ruins in Norcia.

But here’s a thing: this isn’t actually a church any more.

It’s the Chiesa di San Francesco, 14th century, and is (was) still full of beautiful frescoes and this is certainly one of the best pieces of art in the city. But the church has been deconsecrated and now serves (served) as a concert hall. It was the church I ran past, on the left, in that video of all the fallen masonry. The spot where I momentarily froze in shock at what I was seeing, a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

There is (was) an excellent annual music festa in Norcia in the summers. You can (could) walk around town and hear music pouring out of churches and the theatre. If you go (went) to None at the Basilica you can (could) pass the little side street of the theatre while rehearsals are (were) going on and listen to the opera singing for a moment at the side door which they usually leave (left) open.

The work that these good firemen are removing is the altar piece which had remained in place in San Francesco when they rebuilt it as a concert hall after the last big quakes. It’s something to keep in mind. We North Americans tend to go to Europe and assume that these beautiful medieval buildings have been standing continuously for 700 years, but in many cases they have been knocked down by earthquakes (and the wars) several times and rebuilt.

One of Norcia’s unused churches, San Lorenzo, dates to the early 5th century and is thought to be the church where Sts. Benedict and Scolastica were baptized. It is in better shape than some – many of the churches of Norcia were closed after previous quakes and never opened again. San Lorenzo still has its medieval choir stalls along both walls of the nave. But it is not used as a church, and is only opened a few days a year.w Well, actually I have no idea what condition it’s in now. Fr. Benedict did say that all of Norcia’s churches had been destroyed.

As Ann has pointed out here, the question is now, and perhaps for the first time, is there a good reason to rebuild them? It’s one that’s worth asking, and I’ve got a few thoughts on it, but yesterday was a pretty rough day for various reasons, and we’ll have to save it for later.


18 thoughts on “More art rescue and a very pointed question”

  1. Dymphna says:

    There is no perfect Catholic place. The NO has invaded and polluted everywhere. Europe is pretty much dead except for that army of young “refugee” men who are waiting for their orders. If Norcia is just a Catholic tourist trap then rebuild the basilica and a few locations that have a genuine Saints Benedict and Scholastica connection and be done with it but don’t have any illusions.

  2. Warm Cheese says:

    I know it wasn’t Hilary(the tourist) and I was not questioning her. I actually quite enjoy her writings and website, one of the only places I frequent. I was not happy with Ann’s long distance accusations.

  3. Hilary White says:

    No, it wasn’t me. I’m not American. There are others in Norcia.

  4. Martha says:

    I think your cheese melted or sat out too long and moulded, Warm Cheese. The ‘tourist’ is Hilary. I’m sure that, although she can’t read thoughts, she has her finger on the pulse of the Catholicity of the locals.

  5. Gerard Brady says:

    Just so you know. There is a weekly Trad rite mass in a town called Poggibonsi. It is a small town in the Chianti region near Siena.

  6. louiseyvette says:

    In Tasmania, several years ago, a mere 6 or 7% of Catholics would go to Mass regularly (I can’t remember if this meant every Sunday, as it should, or if it meant at least twice a month, or what have you). That was even lower than the national average in Oz of about 12%. Shocking.

  7. Barbara says:

    I may have misunderstood your main point. Do we repair 30 old Churches when they are all nearly empty? Do we rebuild one beautiful, old Church so that those who used to spread themselves over the 30 will congregate there?

    I live in the past in that I remember when every town had many Churches. One could go to Mass every morning because there was no long drive, and huge effort, to get there. In that sense I would like all the old Churches rebuilt – to make it easy for Catholics to attend Mass.

    But I guess that is not going to happen. Is this akin to asking why faithful Catholics still attend lousy, abusive Masses in Churches run by priests/bishops who it appears have lost the Faith? Why don’t they find a good Church and fill that? What is the point of thinking about all this when the tide of evil is swamping us, and we will have a struggle to save our own souls? (sorry, feeling discouraged today)

  8. James C says:

    I live in the deep South of Italy, and I definitely see more people at Mass here. But it’s got to be the surviving culture more than fervent faith—the very few traditional masses here are sparsely attended. The one I’ve started going to gets maybe 20-30 on Sunday evenings, when the Novus several blocks away gets several hundred at the same time. It’s a Low dialogue Mass, not the glorious Solemn Mass the monks of Norcia celebrate every day, from what I recall (Hilary can correct me if I’m wrong) more people still went to the Novus in Norcia’s co-cathedral on Sundays. The liturgical sensibility in these parts (as it else in most of the Catholic world) is as dull and bland as a polyester chasuble.

  9. Warm Cheese says:

    I don’t know if I would link to Ann’s article, it’s kinda lame. Ok, maybe the question about rebuilding is worth considering, but the rest seems to be a stretch. So because she knows an American tourist that was in Norcia at the time of the earthquakes, she knows that none of the locals have “turned back to God”, and are still committing mortal sins without any signs of repentance in sight. What?

    “And bear in mind, magnitude 4 aftershocks were happening every few minutes, with the city hall bell tower looking like it could fall on them at any moment. .” – Well, I know that if I was in a town that was experiencing magnitude 4 aftershocks every few minutes, and bell towers were going to fall on my head, and I could reach(to safety) the outer walls of this town, I am quite sure it would only make sense to run for it. What else were they supposed to do? A tourist would have been wise to trail a local to safety.

    What was the point of publicly scourging these people?

  10. Hilary White says:

    Andrew: oh no. I think more Nursini go to Mass on Sundays than elsewhere in Italy, but it is by no means any more than a tiny fraction of the population. The co-cathedral, the church that we call the “parish” that is run by the dioecese had a steady congregation of older ladies who had probably gone there all their lives. No one else. I went one evening and saw about 60 old ladies, one older man and a few children who clearly had been brought by their nonnas. The Basilica of the monks was more lively, but was still only a tiny number. There was a long way to go, but it seems that God drew a line.

    The official statistics claim that 30% of Italians go to Mass “frequently”. But this is what we like to call in journalism “a lie”. The diocese of Milan did a head count for a year and found it was more like 18. It varies from place to place, and its not as bad as France, but it’s bad.

  11. Andrew Dunn says:

    When I read Ann’s column the other day, I really didn’t want to believe that the townspeople of Norcia were that indifferent. I’ve never been to Norcia but have always assumed it was an oasis where most of the locals, respectful of where they were living, at least went to Mass every Sunday and prayed on a regular basis. Then, the more that I thought about it, I thought about other places in Italy, France and Europe that were specifically Blessed from Heaven but all these years later, I saw little devoutness. For example, when I went to the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Paris for Mass, it was full – great! Then, I took a closer look at those around me and they were Africans and Asians. As for the white folks, they had distinctively Eastern European features. Other Masses I’ve attended in Italy were about the same. There are how many Masses a day at St. Peters? And out of those Masses, what’s the percentage breakdown between Romans and pilgrims from other places? The two bright spots in Europe I’ve been where the locals did seem to be serious about the Church were Malta and Portugal.

  12. Hilary White says:

    Dumbest: Norcia is what the Italians call a “fascist” town, which means in Italian political parlance: not communist.

  13. Hilary White says:

    Barbara, no. you have missed the point entirely. The question is not do we have the cash or should we save more old stuff. The question is whether there is an authentic reason to rebuild churches that act as nothing more to modern people than as reminders of a long-lost past. Having no religion, why should we build religious houses?

  14. Hilary White says:

    John L: none of the churches are going to be cleared by engineers. They’re all either destroyed completely or badly damaged.

  15. John says:

    Why not have the monks use one of these ancient churches when they are cleared by engineers? (No doubt this has been thought of I suppose.)

  16. Barbara says:

    It is a good question. What do we, just as peoples, save from the past? There are thousands of museums around the world crammed to the rafters with ‘old stuff.’ We seem to be pack rats naturally. Look at true art (as opposed to “the-emperor-has-no-clothes-art”) in paintings, sculpture, and in buildings that we have been stockpiling for centuries. We love old things, beautiful things, rare things, valuable things, sacred things. This has to be natural.

    Back to the question of should we save some of the damaged Churches and art. Do we have the cash? Is there something else we need to do with that cash? Can we save this stuff, feed the poor, and defeat Francis all at the same time with the same cash? Does anyone have Soros’ private line? I hear he’s got oodles of spare change.

    In my opinion we should save as many old Churches and the beautiful frescos and art as we can. This is our patrimony, and future generations will have to learn their Faith the old-fashioned way: by looking at art, paintings, sculpture, frescos, stained glass, etc. If we can fool ‘them’ into saving our stuff because it’s ‘art’ all the better.

  17. Tiger184 says:

    I am thankful that you are safe. Prayers will continue for you and everyone affected.
    And, as you said, those decisions can be made on another day.

    God Bless!

  18. dumbest ox says:

    How Red is Norcia? I understand the Reds control the local governments in many cities, and came very near to a ((democratic)) takeover of Italy as a whole in the 1950s – when Pius XII told Italians it was a mortal sin not to vote (against the Reds.) Do folks realize that the term Partisan (meaning resistance fighter in WWII) is essentially a euphemism for Red terrorist? Maybe the point is that these questions are of merely historical interest now that the Church hierarchy has been taken over by something like a Gramscian march through the institutions. Sad, but remember they can’t keep you out of Heaven.

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