We had one day, Friday, between the end of midterms and our departure for Rome, so I went early to Bologna and Siena in Italy with Brian, Colin, Kat, and Bill. We caught an overnight train from Salzburg to Bologna on Thursday night. It was my first overnight train experience, and I was surprised that the door to our compartment didn't lock. Fortunately though, the cushioned seats slide out, allowing you to lie down if you want. After chatting for a while and solving numerous crossword puzzles (Colin's favorite pastime), the five of us fell asleep, cramming like sardines in our compartment.
I awoke around six in the morning and, looking out the window, saw towering heights in the distance, crowned with snow. In the faint light preceding sunrise, the mountains were a pale, translucent blue. My companions were still sleeping, and I felt so peaceful. As the light grew, I began to notice the hallmarks of Italy, familiar to me like the features of an old friend: the cypress trees, the vineyards, the olive groves, the red-tiled rooftops.
Shortly before we arrived at the station in Venice, Colin went to the bathroom while the rest of us got our things together. When the train stopped and we all alighted, he was still not back, so we stood on the platform waiting for him. Finally, we saw him through the train window getting his bags and walking to the train door. Just as he reached the door and stood in the threshold, however, the train began to move. He could have jumped off easily, but a train attendant was there holding out an arm, preventing Colin from getting out. We all shouted “Jump off! Get off!” But there was nothing he could do except stand there in the doorway as the train passed the platform and began to pick up speed. It was actually a bit traumatic for me, seeing Colin pass by us in the doorway, unable to get off, and disappear into the distance. I almost began to cry, until Brian reminded me that Colin would get to the next stop and catch a train in the right direction.
So the four of us caught our train to Bologna. We mistakenly sat in 1st class, but the ticket man showed us to 2nd, where we sat next to two adorable Italian children and their father. They were watching a Spiderman cartoon. The clear morning transformed into a dark, cloudy day, and it was raining in Bologna when we arrived. We went first to the Cathedral of Saint Dominic. The tomb of the saint was of white marble, and sculpted into the marble on all sides were scenes from his life. Atop the tomb were figures of the eight patrons of Bologna, but aside from St. Petronius, I forget their names. Behind the tomb in a golden reliquary was St. Dominic's skull.
The Tomb of St. Dominic
We prayed next to the tomb awhile, and then decided to stay for Mass, which was at 12:30pm. I explored the church, and was especially delighted with the choir behind the main alter. There I met a British couple who, when I told them I was from the Shenandoah Valley, said, “Oh yes, we've been there. It's a beautiful place!” I was entirely surprised. They explained that they had family in Washington, D.C, and had driven through the Valley just a few months before.
Just before noon, Colin called us saying that he had arrived in Bologna and was lost, so Brian went out to find him. I was worried that they would not make it back in time for Mass. At 12:29pm, I went out and stood on the front steps of the church, peering into the square for any sign of them. Just as the 12:30 bells tolled, they came running across the square. They had made it back in time for Mass, which is no small feat, since Bologna is not a small city.
After Mass, we bought delicious pizza for lunch, and then spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We saw the cathedral of St. Petronius, which is one of the largest churches in the world. We also visited a church adjoining a Poor Clare cloister where the incorrupt body of St. Catherine of Bologna is kept. Unfortunately, the side chapel containing her body is not open on Fridays. Nevertheless, we prayed in main church before departing. I did not know it at the time, but I was walking in the footsteps of my patron, St. Therese, who in 1887 visited that same church.
I accompanied Brian on this trip primarily because I wanted to visit Siena, the home of my other patron, St. Catherine. But I am so happy that I went to Bologna- I learned about the life of St. Dominic and now understand at least a little about the Dominican order. I am so blessed to have spent those precious hours beside his tomb. I hope that I will be able to go back someday.