October 20th, 2009
Marcos, a young pianist from Cuba who plays the church organ for us on the weekends, is featured in a recital at Palazzo Santacroce. The 16th century chamber reserved for such events has a ceiling covered with fervent religious subjects. It is the perfect environment for Marcos, a student of Artur Schnabel’s vibrant but “spiritual” technique. The all-Cuban program includes 19th century innovators all the way to Cuba’s gifted twenty-somethings. But, for Romans, all the composers are “new.” Here musical heritage reaches back to the middle ages.
October 21st, 2009
The town of Anagni reached the apex of its influence in the 13th century with the brilliant but overbearing Boniface VIII who began his papacy by incarcerating his predecessor, Pope Saint Celestine V, and ended it by being imprisoned himself. He began the practice of Jubilee Years to bring pilgrims back to an abandoned Rome and tried to make the case for his supreme authority in temporal as well as spiritual matters. For this last effort, he received a slap in the face from his sworn enemy Sciarra Colonna and was locked up for a time. Three years after being released from his brutal treatment, he was dead. Anagni declined when the French moved the papal court to Avignon (1309-1378). Before that time, the hill town’s healthful air and solitude attracted both popes and emperors. I get plenty of fresh air as Anagni’s train station is 8 kilometers from the town and I just miss the connecting bus. After trudging past farmer’s fields, an industrial zone, and a battery of highway toll booths, I see a billboard for a restaurant in “Piazza Bonifacio VIII, Anagni” and am reassured. Soon I notice bright yellow crocuses and the pink of wild cyclamen, a sign that I am beginning the ascent to the town, about 1400 feet above me. The medieval section is announced today by the rummaging tables of a weekly clothing market – items from China and Turkey prevail. Who could afford Italian labels? One man stands in the middle of the shoppers offering hand-embroidered linens, no one comes near. The 11th century cathedral gleams like a skyscraper, spiraling up from the very pinnacle of the hill, its separate bell tower soaring above all else. The church’s unadorned entrance faces an abandoned piazza, another side protects a lively food market from the wind and a third displays its rock wall to potential invaders. (In medieval times, beautiful views were valued for their usefulness in sighting the enemy.) The town was sacked by the Germans in 1348 and in 1556 by the Spanish. A lasting treasure of the place is the cathedral’s frescoed crypt which enshrines the remains of Magnus, bishop of the area in the 2nd century, and Secundia of Anagni, whom he baptized. They lie surrounded by a world of color and imagery that encompasses everything from the Apocalypse to natural philosophy; it is some of the best Byzantine-influenced, Romanesque art in Italy. The floor of the crypt and the main church show-off the pristine 13th century work of mosaic craftsmen, Jacopo and Luca Cosmati, who inscribed a marble plaque on the floor attesting to their masterpiece. The wooded region surrounding the town is dubbed Ciociaria, after the bark sandals of its ancient inhabitants. It is a rare experience to feel so enveloped by nature and the historical past at once. Since everything closes at mid-day, I sit in the abandoned Piazza of Boniface VIII; a Greek-style theater mask, perhaps found on the site, watches me from its niche, on an otherwise blank palazzo wall. At 4 PM, I buy a ticket for the local bus and retrace my hour’s trudge up the hill in five minutes...too swift an exit from this tranquil perch.