I’ve been traveling a lot lately, so, on Sundays, I often find myself in all sorts of new and varied places and, as a result, I make the most of the chance to discover churches, which are also new and varied.
The latest occasion was when I spent a Sunday in Italy, in the heart of the Piamonte region, for the wedding of a partner of mine. By the way, we stayed in a wonderful hotel I can heartily recommend for a relaxing weekend away, close to a little village called Casalotto.
It’s a tiny “paese”, as they call these villages in the region, in terms of the number of households and, from what I saw on the Internet, there are only 69 people living there. I’m guessing that most of them are farmers, too, because the whole area is alive with agriculture. It’s an area of rolling hills and all of the hillsides, as well as the flatland between them, is covered with vineyards that grow grapes for both red and white wines.
While I was there, I decided to go to the church to hear mass in the morning, the only mass that would be held all day, according to what I was told in the hotel, so, to be sure of not missing it, I go there early. In the church doorway, sitting on the step, was a little man, of around 60 years of age, with perfectly trimmed white hair, who smiled very kindly and moved aside to let me in.
As is almost always the case when I go into a church in Italy, despite its limited size, which really was very small, I was blown away by its decoration and the richness of its contents. I think the photos will go some way towards showing why.
After I had been in the church for a while, the man who’d been sitting on the step followed me in, to see what the only other person currently in the church was up to. He came over, smiling again, and stretching out his hand, said: “Buon giorno, sono Carlo!” to which I replied in kind, extending my hand and shaking his, while looking into his eyes, and telling him my name, using the Italian I had learnt while studying, years ago, in Rome.
I congratulated him on the beauty of the church, how well looked after it was, and for how nicely decorated it was. He stared at me, with a calm and serious expression on his face, and, using that professorial tone that Italians employ so well when they are talking about themselves, said: “No, this is just the modern church that was built to be close to the cemetery. The really old and beautiful one is the parish church, which is in the center of the village. This is just a modern one!” Seeing as it didn’t look all that modern to me, I asked him: “How old is this church, then?” And he replied, again, in all seriousness: “It dates to about 1600, but the parish church was built in 1100, more or less!”
I found his answer both surprising and rather amusing, so, with a little humor of my own, I said: “Well, I also think the church at Fontanile is very lovely, and it has a spectacular cupula.” In fact, you could pick out the cupula at Fontanile perfectly on the horizon and it can be seen directly from the door of the church in Cassaloto. In the first photo that appears in this post, you can see the view from there, with the cupula in the distance.
Again, Carlo stared at me, sizing me up, and will a little grin on his face, said: “Well, that one is really modern. It was built in 1850…” And he smiled at me, as if to say “…and that’s the same as being built yesterday.”
At that point, other people began to enter the church and Carlo, who knew all of their names, said hello to each and every one of them. Then he headed off towards the sacristy, just as the mass was about to begin. Carlo, of course, was Cassaloto’s village priest.