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The Rubbish Pilgrim

Padua suffered from not being Venice.

And yet I was determined to make the journey to the Basilica. After all, I call on St Anthony of Padua all the time when I lose things, it was about time I paid a call on his home, but still; Padua, hmm. Despite an easy trip from San Lucia station, It did not start well.

I wasn't ready for the dust and the cars, and I certainly miscalculated the distance. Since reading thomryng's recounting of his camino journey, it has occurred to me that a pilgrimage would be interesting. The answer is clear now; If I could get hopelessly lost on a 40-60 minute straight* walk between the station and the Basilica, a walk of hundreds of kilometres over pastures and mountains might well find me in Shambhala. I am a rubbish pilgrim.

Still, I found the Basilica in the end, and vast and complex it is, with sites for confession and relics and various blessings, and art and explanations and friars and priests and stories. Jimcrack gewgaw stalls line the little Bellini road up to the front of the Basilica, but there's none of that nonsense inside; it is a working shrine, serious, intent, full of devotion. I felt a similar kind of atmosphere at the Bodnath monastery in Nepal years ago...it all leads me to that same conclusion that form leads to art and story and is therefore wonderful. But the form is not the entirety of the God/dess/s.

This conclusion makes the Gardnerian Book of Shadows a little less irritating. Gardner certainly facilitated the awakening of many who were yearning for a more personal connection with the divine; From Freemasonry to Crowley, he borrowed from many sources; but from the little I have read, he is no witch. Seems that Doreen Valiente challenged him on this and he admitted that there was very little literature from the original New Forest coven of his claimed lineage. This is where it gets puzzling. OK, nothing written down, fine. Why then did he feel the need to change that?

One of the most important tenets of Wicca is that the Gods must exist within the self, or they can never be found elsewhere.The important thing about Gardner is that he got modern people connecting with the divine as a principle beyond the solely masculine; people could embrace divinity and humanity, freedom and sexuality in an accessible way. There may have been too much ego happening for him to enjoy movement beyond his own authority. In the end, it takes a great human to look far beyond themselves; Gerald Gardner had much to offer but not that.

I found myself in the chapel of the Black Madonna. This was the ancient little church given into St Anthony's care, when it was called the church of St Maria Mater Domini. He loved it and when he died, his bones were interred here.The mater was different to the usual medieval depictions of Mary, ethereally pale and golden haired; she was considered swarthy by comparison, a thorough brunette with ruddy cheeks. When I showed pictures of the Mater Domini to others, they described her as 'of yeoman stock,' a sort of farmer queen. Certainly she is rich and very jolly and her boy is a typical mediterranean toddler. I like her:

After, I observed some little parts of the Basilica, and visited the shrine of the Saint. There were glorious depictions of stories, including St Anthony preaching to the piscene denizens of Rimini:

And, one of my personal favourites, an ASBO dragon:

As a kind of corollary to all this faith I would have liked to visit the Palazzo Bo, where Copernicus, Casanova and Galileo studied - I walked right beside it but was too tired to go in, worn out with the heat and distance and just wanting to get back to the bright cool air of Venice. Padua, I have done you no proper service. Maybe I'll get another chance to appreciate you, and if I don't, it'll be my own fault for being so distinctly crap.

*Not quite straight, it does some crooked dogs leg thing that gets complicated right at the end...I overshot twice.



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