Ana was falling in love. She walked ahead of me, down hill along Via Roma. She was celebrating the moment, strolling along a European street, and redefining her European identity in the context of her American reality. I paused at an artist’s studio, lamenting that the artist was gone for the way, and so wishing I could get closer to the naive but vibrant paintings I could only see askance through dust-streaked windows. Along Via Giovanni XXIII I couldn’t help wondering what happened to the previous 22 Giovannis, and thought I had some catching up to do on my Giovannis!
I caught up with her near a small church at the bottom of the hill, where three roads met in an iconic way, the town bending through narrow lanes and rustic buildings, or dissolving among sun-drenched fields. It seemed the perfect place for the unassuming little church, a place of coming together. This place was a poem, the beginning of a novel or the end of a story.
Santuario Della SS Anunziata was indeed a sanctuary, at least from the growing midday heat.. It was cool, with a soft earthy scent, dust and warm wax from votives near the altar. It was a curiosity to me, exploring it like it was some sort of forgotten and simple museum. Ana took a seat in a pew, a pillar of light falling across her hair and upturned face. Near one wall, set back out of reach, a beautiful old sketch book filled with pen and ink studies.The place appeared well cared for, if gently succumbing to the centuries.
Outside of town, among the orchards and poppy fields, where Via Amerini meets Via di Sant Ansanto, sits a small forgotten church. It stands upon a hill in sight of Vinci, waded in deepening weeds. The name has long been erased, with only part of an inscription still visible.
A metal cross beside the narrow door rusts, throwing a shadow across the crack and pitted wall, and offering a bit of shade for a pair of lizards, which scramble away as I near. Inside, the air smells forgotten. The door is locked, but the window is broken enough to see clearly inside. On the back wall, no doubt once a part of a small and simple alter, a painting of the Madonna still adorns the wall, offering a surprise of color that almost feels miraculous in its own right. It would have been crowded with a half dozen worshipers.
I wonder about the place. I wonder about its history. There is no date to be found, but late Eighteenth Century is easily possible. I want to imagine simple peasant weddings, stormy funerals, sheltering American soldiers or lovers stealing a moment. Empty and uncared for as it is I find a closer connections to god or the spirit or something here than at the tourist besieged cathedrals in Venice or Florence. I am endeared to its forgotten nature, creating a symbiosis with the land, as if the church was not an amendment to the land, but an organic outgrowth of it, beyond men’s holy words and assertions. There is a threat, a river that runs through this place deeper and more resonant than any religion, and yet informing that religion and all religions about something truer and more universal to the Human soul.