In Italy La Pasqua is the day to eat out in restaurants with family and my hosts had spent the day from noon to six with their daughters and in-laws for the Easter Sunday meal. After a day of such feasting Pasquetta (Easter Monday) is a Gita day. All the roads are jammed as people go to the mountains to walk – or as we did to visit the Santuario San Gabriele. It is near the Gran Sasso National Park and is literally right under the Gran Sasso range with its impressive snow-capped peaks.
We took the small, winding roads passing through the mountain towns – Montorio al Romano and Tossicia- stone clad houses perched on the sides of hills. Spring was in the air and the fruit trees, peaches, plums and the yellow forsythia were just starting to bloom.
There was a church at this site as early as the 1200’s when St Francis of Asissi passed through Abruzzo. A franciscan monastery was established there and was active until the early 1800’s. The story of the sanctuary itself dates from the mid 1800s. It is the story of a young man from an aristocratic family who was known as a handsome, always happy, bon vivant but also as a bright and dedicated student. At the age of 18 he had a revelation, left the high life behind, and joined the monastery in Abruzzo to study theology. There he became known for his generous spirit, his compassion and his humble and joyous nature. At the age of 20 he contracted tubercolosis. He accepted his fate writing to his parents “Così vuole Dio, così voglio anch’io”. He passed away at the age of 23.
Some 30 years later miracles started happenning at his burial site. His sainthood was proclaimed in 1920 -San Gabriele.
The Sanctuary itself is impressive because of its location under the Gran Sasso. People do believe that miracles can happen there. My hostess is a believer and so I did light a candle with her.
It was a perfect sunny spring day. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of cars everywhere in the parking lot and along the narrow road leading to the Sanctuary. The little street leading to the church was lined with porchetta trucks – like the chip trucks on Canada day- dozens of them. There was a tail-gating kind of atmosphere. The park like setting was packed with people eating, drinking and singing songs. There were even barbecue type grills outside for people to cook their own food. The small stalls selling nuts, souvenirs, cheeses, salamis, traditional music, ceramics hand-made near by were crammed with shoppers.
It was an unexpected gita and just a perfect day for being in the mountains. I was very grateful for the generosity of my hosts who allowed me to share their Pasquetta with them.