Wisdom from Fransican Italy: The Primacy of Love

Two years ago I received an e-mail highly recommending this book. I put it on my Amazon Wish List and when a second hand copy was offered for £1 (+£2.80 postage and packing) I purchased the copy. It took me three days to read. It is both an unusually structured book, thoroughly enjoyable and challenging. The book is a novel, a love story, about four people going from Heathrow to Perugia in Umbria, Italy for a pilgrimage visiting the major sites around Assisi associated with St Francis.

Amidst the short account of the small group’s coming and going with many changes of plan and the addition of other persons for some of the visits, one of the party, a hermit who lives in the Outer Hebrides, Peter Calvay, talks about the significance of the place for St Francis and speaks about aspects of Franciscan Spirituality. We are given a beautiful 57 page account highlighting the life, historical context and significance of St Francis – the pilgrims were given this to read on the flight to Perguia.

Almost without knowing it we learn to appreciate the heart of Franciscan Spirituality with the more difficult parts both illustrated by good stories and further explained through the questions the members of that small group raised. And yes, she did, in the end, marry him.

I particularly appreciated the teaching on simplicity and prayer, on the eucharist and the necessity of personal prayer to make it real in our lives (after the Last Supper Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsamane ‘to begin to assimilate and digest the love he had just received’) on the primacy of love in a theological (John Duns Scotus) way, a practical way, and in a spiritual way (St Bonaventure). We learn to understand the development of the various emphases in spirtuality over the Christian era and have a moving account of atonement emphasising Jesus coming into the world to embody and inspire love.

I must confess that having visited many of the places associated with St Francis gave much of what is said an extra resonance; I think that many people will greatly enjoy and be helped by this book. I found it so much more helpful than many other books on prayer and spirituality that I have read.

Christopher Morgan-Jones