On Thursday 21st September 2023 I embarked on my own pilgrimage journey from Bangor to Bobbio.
I was invited to participate in the European Heritage Weekend organised by Manuela Bertoncini, along with Derry Healy, Dr Alexander O’Hara, Beatriz Devicenteferri, Lettizia Roverere and Catriona McEhlynney Grimes. The purpose of my visit was twofold: as a member of Friends of Columbanus Bangor (FoCB) and a member of staff at Saint Columbanus’ College Bangor. From the moment I arrived, I was awestruck by the beauty of Bobbio, nestled near the beautiful Trebbia valley.
The three-day event had a packed programme, beginning on Friday morning with a visit to the crypt of Columbanus at the Basilica of San Colombano (St Columbanus Abbey). What a spiritual experience! A very special place and one that should be on every FoCB member’s bucket list!
We were then met by a group of students and their teacher, Eugenia Ballerini, and guided through the town, past Malaspina Castle to St Columbanus College Bobbio. In the afternoon we visited St Columbanus Cathedral followed by the Malaspina Palace, their cellars and wonderful archives, dating back to the 12th Century. We then crossed the Ponte Gobbo, with eleven arches, known locally as the humpback bridge, to a salt pool, where we were able to bathe our weary feet!
On we went, a half hour drive to Brugnello, which sits 464m above sea level, allowing us a magnificent view of the Trebbia River in the valley below.
On Saturday, as part of the European Heritage Open Days, we visited an exhibition in Mezzano Scotti, an ancient monastery about six miles from Bobbio We then walked, in the glorious sunshine, to Cadonica, whose tower dates back 1300 years. The afternoon was an exchange of information and ideas with several teachers from Piacenza and Bobbio. This was followed by Mass at St Columbanus Cathedral with wonderful music from Roberto Bulla and Catriona McE Grimes. What better way to end the day than a genuine Italian pizza and a glass of local wine. Bellissima!
Sunday morning saw worship at St Columbanus Abbey and then St Paul’s in Mezzano Scotti. Both wonderful spiritual experiences.
After lunch, we drove to Coli and ascended the path to the remains of the Oratory of Saint Michael’s Cavern, the cave where legend says St Columbanus died. It was not an easy journey, up and down rough terrain, but made me consider the challenges Columbanus and his peers faced to settle in what would have been a desolate place.
Revived with more generous Italian hospitality, our final event featured Dr Alexander O’Hara reading from his book, the translation of Jonas of Bobbio, with musical interludes by Catriona McEl Grimes at the Archivi of Bobbio Cathedral. A generous presentation of four beautiful books was given to each of us attending. A fitting end to a fabulous weekend.
Sharon Kayes, Education Officer on FoCB Events Committee