The bus was full of Dutch pilgrims who we soon found out – using English – were heading to exactly the same place as us.
Eventually the bus stopped and then we walked. The surrounding area was beautiful, slightly hilly, a few trees, a few clouds and some green and yellow fields. Idyllic. I can’t remember if it was far, but I do remember it was hot. This was the beginning of September. Eventually our tramping led us to a very old farmhouse where the Dutch pilgrims said we were going to stay. It was built of large blocks of stone, with enormous chambers – you could hardly call them rooms, with some straw matting on the floor and lots of iron bedsteads in each. My heart sank. I looked desperately for a bathroom – how was I going to have a bath, let alone anything else? Our newly found Dutch friends laughed kindly at my face, and showed me where the outhouse was. What could I do but accept the situation. But then the sleeping arrangements. I really don’t like sharing a room with strangers. It’s bad enough with people you know and love! But strangers?? And here was minor miracle number four. The Dutch men and Stephen all decided to use the biggest barn room. The Dutch ladies all chose a room for four – and then I had an enormous space to myself. I was terrified – but happier.
So off we trooped to find the grotto and see what the situation was. I was starving but was told that dinner would be later. Oh well…
The grotto was charming. There was a tennis court-sized, or maybe a little bit bigger, lawn in front of it, and people were praying – some out loud, and others were walking round in circles, saying the rosary and singing. It was quite an experience for a while, and then I got into the rhythm of things and time passed slowly but very fast, if you know what I mean. Before we knew it, it was time to eat at last. Dinner at the farmhouse was delicious and plentiful. But embarrassing. After we had finished – and there was copious wine – it was suggested that everyone should sing a song or hymn from their own country. The Dutch sang sonorously, the Italians sang harmoniously, Stephen sang on his own (he has a lovely voice) and I didn’t sing. Not in Polish, nor English. No minor miracle here. God gave me the voice of a frog, and it hasn’t changed for anyone!
They let me off kindly, but even so – I think I would have liked to have been able to break into tuneful song. The operative word is tuneful – but that was not to be. I relaxed, and was happy and ready for bed. And then the shock came. Everyone wanted to go back to the grotto and pray all night. Obviously I am not a very holy person. I couldn’t even think about it! I went to bed – feeling a tiny bit guilty but not enough to do anything about it!
In case you are wondering why we went: Stephen was always very keen on visions and apparitions and in 1975 this was the area of more recent ones. The following is taken from the Italian tourist boards website
San Damiano, small village in San Giorgio Piacentino area, 20 km from Piacenza on the right bank of Nure river, became famous thanks to the visitation of Madonna delle Rose.
The first visitation was on 16th October in 1964 to Rosa Buzzini Quattrini. Since then, numerous tourists and pilgrims from Italy and abroad went to see the spot where the Madonna appeared.
In brief: on Friday, 16th October 1964 at noon the Madonna appears as Madonna delle Rose, mother to all of her children on earth and Mother of the Church. Rosa Buzzini Quattrini (1909-1981) left a testimony of faith and prayer to the believers. She founded the Città delle Rose community.
Place: the visitation happened in the orchard of Rosa Buzzini Quattrini home in Borgo Paglia in San Damiano.
Message: the Madonna asks for conversion, constant prayer and a close relationship with God and the brothers: “Pray, love, suffer, keep silence”.