Here’s an early morning in the fertile Reiti Valley climbing a steep mountain toward Greccio and a complex of stone buildings clinging precariously to the vertical face of the mountain. This was the priory and church founded by Brother Francis in 1223 after locals asked him to stay and promised to build a home for him and his followers. He told them that close proximity interferes with a contemplative life but agreed to stay for a while in a spot no further from Greccio than a stone might be thrown. What a lovely day for an Italian holiday celebration!
First Christmas crèche in the modern way
This place is best remembered for the first popular Christmas crèche, a tradition since spread throughout the world. As a consequence Greccio is full year’round with Christmas tradition and dozens of crèches in the tiny shop. And so it happened that once upon a time in the month of October, I celebrated an Italian holiday with traditional Italian food and customs here at Greccio followed by supper in Reiti a few miles away at Santa Maria de LaForesta.
Mondo X at the former Franciscan cloister
Christmas dinner was held at a former priory now the home of Mondo X, a self-help group of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who established their own rule, not overtly religious but based on the Franciscan way, emphasizing beauty, hard work, and dialogue. Their record of success has led to several dozen locations throughout Italy. This one at Reiti earns money for their ministry and the upkeep of the former Santa Maria de La Foresta by serving as a lodge and restaurant. Thirty years ago The New York Times published another traveler’s visit to a hilltop monastery in Tuscany which suggests how little things have changed, perhaps only improved with success. The link is one to follow when you aren’t hungry as you surely will be after reading it.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
This place in the hills has long been a resting spot for renewal and locals say it was here at this very cloister deep in the forests of 1225 that Francis wrote the Canticle in Praise of the Creatures with petitions to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, acknowledged as the first work of literature in the Italian language (actually in the dialect of Umbria and translated into Italian). Based on their theory that substance abuse results from low self-esteem and a lack of productivity and personal responsibility, today’s Mondo X appears to be a solid concept for treatment well suited to the modern world. Here at LaForesta Mondo X members live off the land, maintain the stone structures, restore the vineyards, press the wine, care for their guests, and earn back their lives.
We arrived to find appetizers and champagne in the cloister garden: tempura herbs (rosemary and thyme) with fried sausage-stuffed olives and chunks of a very good Parmesan. The Christmas feast began with polenta and fried pig rind in a white cheddar sauce. Very tender, moist, and well-seasoned turkey was served alongside shredded cabbage and other vegetables grown in the cloister gardens. Dessert was the traditional Italian panettone served on a spider web of dark chocolate and heavy English cream.
After dinner we strolled the beautiful gardens and vineyards; then off by myself I discovered someone had laid a heart of chestnuts to which I added the last, completing the design and thinking how much I wished Paul was here to share the beauty.
This would have made a good Christmas post but figured to give you time to plan. If you extend your trip or your interests to Assisi check out the bakery window with luscious treats served fresh each morning with steaming expresso which I wrote about here two years ago! Ciao!