The red rickety bus that drops me off looks
ready to shatter if someone gave it a good kick. Its engine rattles and
bumbles. The seats have a worn velvet finish, and the name of a tour
bus company is halfheartedly painted over on the front. It’s probably
owned by the guy who drives it. My fifth stop, Caldana—a hamlet just
outside of Varese in northern Lombardia, Italy—is not much more than
two churches and a light buttering of houses.
“Angaaaa angaaaaahh!” A donkey squeals at my back. It bucks its head as if to say, “This is not tourist country.” My friends had laughed: “You’re doing what? By yourself? What if there’s a transportation strike? You’ll get stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to rent a donkey or something ... ‘Tommy and his donkey do Italy!’ ” Well, I found myself a donkey. But what I’m really looking for are Lutheran churches. The donkey looks at me like I’m crazy.
I was of the mind that while I was studying in Italy for a semester, I would see as much of the country as possible. So while most of my colleagues made plans to go elsewhere in Europe for fall break, I wondered how I could easily come up with an all-Italy itinerary. The idea came while I was in pursuit of a Lutheran congregation that I might attend in Florence. Italy is a Roman Catholic country, so I was actually surprised to find Protestant churches at all. But the ELCA Web site assured me there were about 20 Lutheran churches throughout the country. Why not try to find them all?
The church in Caldana is completely gutted. There are no doors to speak of; the sound of hammering rises up from somewhere in the basement. Sawdust surrounds the altar, along with bags of concrete mix, no pews and a dolly leaning out of a pile of bricks. It’s a shell where a church should be, as invisible as Caldana on my map of Italy. A smattering of German on a flyer by the gate is the only hint I have that it might be Lutheran. I make my check mark by the address and shrug. A fertilizer smell follows me as I walk back down the road. Donkey’s stare never falters.
Florence, where my adventure begins, is a bustle-or-be-bustled city. Church bells ring whenever. Tourists swarm the streets and sidewalks that are paved with fossilized waffles. The river Arno is green or brown depending on its mood. The Lutheran church is nestled between riverside apartments on the Altro Arno — a small brick building that is barely distinguishable as a church. A marble placard that reads Chiesa Luterana, and the heavy wooden doors are about the only indicators. I attend a service that moves too fast for my meager grasp of Italian. The sermon bounces off the white plaster walls and hits my ears like one long string of A’s and I’s. But the spirit of adventure stirs within me, and a week later I grab my backpack and head out in search of Lutheran windmills.
If you’d like to go along with Tommy Richter as he continues this quest, please read "Lutheran churches in Italy."
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