After more than a year of anticipation and planning, at the end of September twelve of us from UUCC enjoyed a walking pilgrimage in the Umbria region of Italy*, with Assisi as our final destination. Over the course of five days and six nights, and with the guidance of Rev. Rob Hardies and walking maps from Girosole, we experienced hikes and walks that were at times rigorous and at times leisurely; we ate delicious meals and lots of gelato; we connected with the earth, with ourselves, with each other, and with the stories of St. Francis; and we returned home filled with gratitude.
The experience was designed as a spiritual pilgrimage, loosely following some of the journey of Francis of Assisi. There were moments when the trip felt like vacation—after all, we were far from the mundane responsibilities and routines of our typical daily lives—but we were continuously invited into reflection. Each day’s walk began with 30 minutes of silence; a daily reading and theme provided focus for centering and reflection; and each evening we spoke of our day’s experience in a sharing circle.
Those themes carried us from the overarching concept of threshold, through mindful attention; gratitude & blessing; silence & solitude; healing; and, finally, new possibilities & returning home. Each of us had moments of insight and epiphany that were private and personal, and the experience was deepening and connecting for our group as a whole.
Throughout it all, we were encouraged to connect with the earth and with our spirits through our bodies, as we walked mindfully—with each step imagining that we were “kissing the earth with our feet”, as Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his poem Walking Meditation.
Below I’ll share a brief description of each day’s experiences, with some photos. Note that we did not all walk together, and some days we began the day’s walk at different times. Each of us followed the maps at our own pace and were responsible for claiming whatever space we needed for solitude, silence, and reflection. And other pilgrims were more attentive than I was to the historical sites connected to Francis’ journey!
Thank you, UUCC, for your part in making it possible for this pilgrimage to occur. It was a true gift for me, and I think for all of us—it felt indulgent at times, and physically taxing at others, but overall was restorative, inspiring, and connecting. Thank you.
* Rob proposed the idea of this particular pilgrimage for our congregation, because he knew that Italy is special to me — over 20 years ago, I (with partner Graham) lived in Italy’s Abruzzo region for 6 months.; we immersed ourselves in the countryside and food and language of the small hill town of Corvara, inland from the sea town of Pescara. (For most of that time, we lived at Agriturismo Biologico Laperegina.)
Day 1 (Sunday) — Spoleto
On Sunday, September 25, we all gathered at our Spoleto lodgings (Hotel Charleston) for our first evening circle, in which Rev. Rob led us in reflection about threshold and each of us shared a hope or intention for the week.
Day 2 (Monday) — Spoleto / Monteluco
First day of walking. We hiked out of Spoleto, up to Monteluco (where we visited Santuario di S. Francesco (St. Francis’ sanctuary)), and back down to Spoleto. 6.5 miles; 4.5 hours; nearly 1400 ft ascent. I was grateful for good hiking boots and hiking poles—especially on the way down the mountain, in the rain. Whew. We slept in Spoleto again Monday night.
Day 3 (Tuesday) — Trevi to Montefalco
Tuesday morning, we were driven from Spoleto to our walk’s starting point in Trevi, then we walked mostly uphill for a little over 5 miles into the town of Montefalco. We saw lots of olive groves and vineyards and farms this day. Our spiritual focus was on gratitude, and I found myself appreciating many of the details of the landscape and its flora.
Day 4 (Wednesday) — Bevagna
Instead of silence for only 30 minutes, on Wednesday we walked entirely in silence and mostly in solitude from Montefalco to Bevagna. We had the option of returning to Montefalco (approximately 6 miles)—where we’d sleep again that night—via foot or by shuttle. I chose the shuttle with several other pilgrims, but many in our group chose to walk the entire way. Bevagna is home to ancient Roman baths with intricate mosaic tilework depicting sea and mythical creatures—sadly, I had incorrect information and missed the tour of those mosaics!
Day 5 (Thursday) — to Assisi
On Thursday morning, the tour company shuttled us from Montefalco to a high point on Mount Subasio. We then hiked about 5 miles into the town of Assisi. The first mile or so was a pretty steep uphill climb, and then the rest was downhill—which may sound easier, but was merely a different kind of difficult, as steep as it was. Still, a rewarding day with a lot of beauty and nature and companionship and laughter and deliciousness in Assisi at the end.
Day 6 (Friday) — in Assisi
While we were provided with a Girosole map showing a route around Assisi, many of us chose to stray from that route on Friday. One of the treasures for me of this trip was sharing it with Hallie, and on this day the two of us toured Assisi on our own. The walking was less rigorous—though our hotel was in the valley below the old city, so that meant walking up the hill again. Hallie and I toured the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, shopped for gifts, ate a delicious lunch, and stopped in the church and monastery of San Damiano on the way back down the hill. Then we returned to the hotel on foot in a rainstorm that we’d thought was moving in a different direction. (Oops.) Our group’s pilgrimage ended with dinner together at the hotel that evening—and a fierce competition of the card game Spoons, initiated by our pilgrim teens.