Cammino dei Cappuccini
In September 2023 a group of four Shetland parishioners walked 130 miles of the Cammino dei Cappuccini from Fossombrone to Camerino. Neil Work tells the story.
To celebrate five hundred years since their founding and to promote and hopefully attract men to their order, the Capuchin order have marked out a new camino pilgrim path. It runs North to South across the forested Apennine hills in central Italy, inland from Ancona. It attempts to follow the story of its founding and its links with earlier monastic history. To walk half its length over eleven days was the proposition for our 2023 Parish Pilgrimage. Lured by promises of 'pleasantly warm' weather a group of us signed up.
As John Bunyan's Christian got off to a shakey start, so did we. Our party was attacked by the giants of "B.A.", "Delay", "Cancellation", "Vouchers" & "Shuttle" while avoiding the temptations of "Vanity Fayre" in various European airports.
Meanwhile our solitary bus traveller had to contend with the giant "German" sitting next to him. Meeting up with him and tour rep Emmanuel we were driven across the mountainous spine of Italy to Fossombrone Capuchin friary, Fr. Ambrose battling the giant of "Double-Rooms-Instead-Of-Single-(Like-What-We-Paid-For)" to the bitter end. With success!
Issued with pilgrim pendants,credential cards to be stamped and given a blessing by brother Filippo, we set off next day into the Delectable Mountains with our Shepherd. Chastened a bit however by the comment from a daughter that our proud 'team starting' picture resembled an O.A.P. outing photo!
True,we all had various age related health issues, injuries and post op weaknesses to nurse. Youth, in the form of Fr. Ambrose dressed in Lincoln green forged ahead. Age, in my form and short legs, lagged last. Strangely the one who at the start of our pilgrimage constantly groaned " oo noo ! Uphill agin !" , by the end (according to Pete) was a machine who just needed to be switched on to disappear ahead dressed in the Albion Rovers shirt of the day. We soon found that the steep downhill segments were the most challenging- the limestone lumps acting like marbles underfoot, as the pale rock radiated the glaring heat.
Locals assured us that the oven like blast we Northerners were enduring was actually pleasantly cool compared to what they themselves had endured barely a week before, with temperatures way up in the 30's. No wonder they have siestas. Our feet swelled, toes blistered and compeed supplies dwindled, but the scenery delivered.
To me , it all seemed like the background to a Renaissance painting. The strange dreamlike fields with random trees, the towns with towers on hilltops, were all there when we reached vantage points. Then into the cooler forests and their green tunnels, the scenery more wooded and mountainous day by day as we went into the Marche national park, bathed in sweat.
Following the approximate path of the Capuchin founders Fra Ludovico & Fra Raffaele, who were on the run from their more worldly superiors, in a few days we came to the magnificent monastery of Fonte Avellana. First built over a thousand years ago, I was astonished at the skill that went into the masonry of the 'scriptorium', where monks needed maximum light to copy scripture.
After Mass in the monastery chapel on our day off , we dined in the big refectory along with a large noisy crowd of faithful from the surrounding area, amused to find that the much vaunted "Mediterranean Diet" the NHS says we should follow is completely ignored in Italy. We even got free cake handed out at one point on the trail, when begging for water.
Our friendliest welcome was in the lovely mountain village of Pascelupo. Fr. Ambrose extended his tiring day by hiking up towards Blessed Paul Giustiniani's hermitage of San Girolamo, nestled high up in the forested slopes. We all regretted not joining him for various reasons. There are three brothers there, very strictly enclosed in solitary prayer, whose abbot comes down to the village occasionally to organise supplies.
In Fabriano Pete stocked up for us with a tray of many butter sachets from a supermarket. The inability of Italians to make edible, lubricated panini rolls is a national disgrace, along with their inability to make a proper cup of tea without careful instruction. Without lemon.
The greatest Delectable Mountain was given a "pass" by half of us - what a view they missed! - and we left the mountains for ripe vineyards and towns silhouetted on hills. We finally found the site where Blessed Paul Giustiniani met the friars on the run, and crucially encouraged them to found their order. In San Severino we stayed at a spotless convent where I was struck how kind the sisters were to their Alzheimer's sufferer.
Before heading to our goal at Camerino our final bidding prayer at Mass was composed to ask for a cool day and a level path. For the good of our souls the next day we endured a 3° rise in temperature , a huge open hill, and our composer got lost and had to walk back up a very steep hot tarmac road.
The spiced 'rosso' wine at the Capuchin friary of Renacavata was just amazing, as we tried to converse with the bearded brothers using translation apps, before turning in to get mosquitoed.
The final days ended as we began, fighting the giants of transport, until we could step out at last and get a lungful of cool Shetland air and feel the delicious sea breezes.