angels and martyrs

If I hadn’t been told about this amazing church by a work colleague before leaving for Italy, I’m sure we would have missed it. The façade is somewhat disguised amidst the opulence of the Piazza della Repubblica.


The Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) was built in part of the remains of the Baths of Diocletian, the largest public baths in ancient Rome.


It absolutely boggles me that this massive structure was completed in the year 306. It took them seven years but where is that talent and temerity in this technological age? I digress! The siege of Rome brought an end to the baths in 537 when the water supply from the aqueducts was cut off. A priest, wandering through the ruins in 1541, had a vision of angels which Pope Pius IV interpreted as a message from God. He thus ordered the building of the church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the angels and the Christians who died during the construction of the baths. The old wooden doors were replaced in 2006 with a very impressive bronze pair by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The right hand one depicts the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, while a risen Christ emerges from the left hand door.

In 1563, Michelangelo was commissioned to design the church but, unfortunately, he died the following year and the work was completed by his student, Jacopo Lo Duca. Stepping through the doors, the sheer magnitude and beauty of the interior was breathtaking.


There was so much to take in, around as well as above.


The dome originally had an opening in the top to allow rain to fall into the bath waters below but is now filled with a fabulous work of stained glass by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.

8.Light and Time

The church is built in the shape of a cross, a magnificent altar at the end of each section.


One of these is the Chapel of St. Bruno,

11.Chapel of St Bruno

the left hand wall filled with a spectacular cherry, walnut and chestnut organ built by Bartélémy Formentelli. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the organ has 5,400 hand-made pipes and is often used for concerts.


I can imagine listening to the incredible sounds while slowly dissolving into the ceiling.

13.ceiling Chapel of St Bruno

There was so much to absorb, from stunning stained glass windows

to statues, frescoes, ceilings and the 3D design of the marble floor.

23.marble floor

Following directions to the sacristy, we passed through a room with exhibits displaying the history of the baths before entering a tranquil courtyard. We were greeted by an imposing bronze statue of Galileo Galilei, a gift from China designed by Professor Tsung Dao Lee, winner of the 1957 Nobel prize in Physics.

24.Galileo Galilei

On completion of the church, it was given to the Carthusian monks who built a monastery next door. It is thought that this courtyard may have been the garden and the back of their cells.

We were very happy to avoid the crowds and queues at the more well-known sites in Rome, very few tourists seem to be aware of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Avon amble

Having explored Shakespeare’s birthplace and home town, it was only right we would visit his place of rest. On the banks of the River Avon, Holy Trinity Church is the oldest building in Stratford. Dating back to 1210, much rebuilding was undertaken between 1465 and 1491. The original wooden spire was replaced in 1763.

1.Holy Trinity Church

There were many fascinating gravestones, these two seemed to be connected in some way.


I could find no information about Catharine Gill who died in 1868 at the age of 71 (on the right of the photo). However, I found that Abigail Insall, (on the left), who was buried in 1869 at 80 years of age, had lived in this gorgeous semi-detched early Georgian Town House at 4 Tyler Street. I liberated this photo from Google maps.

3.4 Tyler Street

The interior of the church was breathtaking

4.the nave and font

with several huge stained glass windows.

5.stained glass windows

William Shakespeare was buried in 1616 in the chancel alongside other members of his family.

6.the chancel

During services, priests had to stand, which was particularly hard on the older ones. Small hinged seats, called misericords, were installed in the 15th century so the priests could rest, yet appear to be standing up. There are 26 of these misericords and each one has three carvings on the underside, only visible when the seat is folded up. There are no religious scenes but an interesting array of bawdy, theatrical faces – a reminder of the devil’s presence and his search for wayward souls.

7.carvings on misericord seats

The impressive pipe organ dates from 1841 and has undergone several restorations.

8.the organ

Leaving the church, we wandered along the banks of the River Avon enjoying a different perspective of Holy Trinity along the way.

9.Holy Trinity Church10.Holy Trinity Church

The magnificent stained glass window in the chancel was more subdued from the outside.

11.Holy Trinity Church from the east

Autumn leaves littered the path

12.River Walk

and the geese were out for an afternoon walk.

The Tramway Bridge was built in 1822 to carry the horse tramway and is now a footbridge across the river.

15.Tramway Bridge

100 metres to the east, road traffic crosses the river via Clopton Bridge. Built in the 15th century to replace an earlier timber bridge, the reflections from the 14 pointed arches on a clear day would be amazing.

16.Clopton Bridge

Sant’ Antimo Abbey

Leaving Asciano, we weaved our way through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to Sant’ Antimo Abbey, not far from Montalcino.


The Benedictine monastery dates back to the Middle Ages and the abbey was completed in 1260.


I love the solitary cypress next to the bell tower.


The landscape of olive trees, vineyards, fields and cypress was an artist’s dream


and the town of Castelnuovo Dell’ Abate stood guard over the abbey.


We wandered around the grounds of the monastery


before entering the abbey to observe the prayers and chanting of the monks.


We were awed by the light streaming in, accentuating the 13th century wooden crucifix behind the altar.


The interior was stunning, the alabaster walls reflected the light

and there was so much detail wherever we looked.

The capitals had intricate carvings,


the most impressive depicted Daniel in the Lions’ Den.


The abbey was known for its Gregorian chanting and the monks started at exactly the scheduled time of 12.45pm. Words can’t describe our ethereal experience, surrounded by those exquisite voices with the Tuscan countryside offering a tranquil portrait in the window frame.


Returning to reality, we spent some time admiring the architecture of the exterior


and found more intricate carvings of animals and humans.

One last look at the spectacular surroundings


and we headed for our next destination, Montalcino.


I have wanted to visit Cortona for as long as I can remember, even before “Under the Tuscan Sun” made it popular. An ancient Etruscan city, dating back to 600BC it was every bit as magical as I expected. Only a 10 minute drive from Il Castagno, we parked outside the city walls and strolled through the beautiful narrow streets


lined with every shop imaginable.

Michael even bought a pair of shoes!


Somewhere along the way, we caught a glimpse of the cloister of Santo Agostino convent.


Our wandering led to Piazza Garibaldi with an obelisk dedicated to Guiseppe Garibaldi and a commemorative monument to Leonardo di Vinci.

We were lured to lunch at Ristorante Tonino by the breathtaking view.


Unfortunately, the menu catered for tourists rather than those wishing to experience a traditional Tuscan meal.

After lunch, we walked through the Parterre Gardens, past the Monument to the Dead of World War I,


a beautiful fountain,

and what appeared to be an amphitheatre.


There is a marble sculpture, the Dove of Peace, by John D Kehoe who, in 1970, founded an international art study program in Cortona.


Just past the magnificent San Domenico Campanile

we found ourselves on a tranquil tree-lined path.


We attempted to find Bramasole, the villa renovated by Frances Mayes in “Under the Tuscan Sun”. We either didn’t walk far enough or we took the wrong turn, sadly, we never found it. Instead, we headed for the highest point in Cortona.


It was a very hot spring day and after a heavy lunch and a vino or two, it was a bit of a challenge.

Stopping to catch our breath now and then, the sights were rewarding.

The further we got, the more determined we were to make it

and finally, we reached Fortezza di Girifalco.


We took our time exploring the well preserved ruins of the 16th century fortress.

The panorama over the rooftop of the 14th century Convent of Santa Margherita


across the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimeno was spectacular.


There would be some fascinating stories in the old walled cemetery.


The Basilica Santa Margherita was built following the death of the patron saint of Cortona in 1297.


The return walk to town was an easy stroll, I couldn’t resist the intriguing doorways once again.

After a short visit to the Chiesa di San Francesco, built in 1245,


we enjoyed well earned gelati before returning to our gorgeous villa to sit with a vino and reflect on our wonderful day.


Benabbio church

The Benabbio church, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, was first opened in the year 1336.


The beautiful stone buildings grace the piazza of the same name.


There is a monument commemorating a thousand years from 983 to 1983.


Behind the church is a former chapel which has been converted to a museum


housing religious objects hundreds of years old. One evening before dinner, we were privileged to have a guided tour of the museum, not normally open to the public.

This statue was carved out of a hollow tree trunk in the 13th century


and the back of this one is an old wooden door.

These two wooden statues, representing the annunciation, were carved in 1394 and are in surprisingly good condition.


Some of the expressions on the faces within this altar were quite disturbing.


I like the floor tiles with reference to brothers and sisters.

The church was beautiful with the late afternoon sun creating a peaceful ambience.


The carved and painted triptych hanging over the altar was made in 1469.


The church is floodlit at night, a tradition in Italy even out in the countryside and mountains.