Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Stuff of Legend

Nostra Signora di Bonaria: Church of Our Lady of Bonaria
We visited the Church of Our Lady of Bonaria here in Cagliari.  Very famous church for the history, but even more so for the legend that surrounds it.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria
Built between 1324-1326, Gothic-Catalan Architecture
Origins of the sanctuary date back to 1324 when the Argonese conquered Cagliari, sent the Pisans packing, and built their fort high on the mountain slopes overlooking the city.  The hill was known as Buen Ayre ("good air"), or Bonaria in local language, because the air was fresher than the inland Castle area that was adjacent to malaria-infested swampland.  During occupation, the Argonese built a church to offer spiritual assistance to soldiers committed in the siege of the city.  In 1335, King Alfonso IV (Alfonso the Kind) of Aragon donated the church to the Mercedarian monks of Barcelona, an order of Friars whose task it was to ransom Christian slaves from the Moors - a work that was booming in Cagliari.  Then in 1370, a storm brought fame and mystique to this obscure church.

According to Legend
March 25, 1370, a merchant ship sailing from Spain to Italy was caught in a hurricane in the Mediterranean Sea.  In a last-ditch effort to save the ship from sinking, the captain ordered the entire cargo be jettisoned into the ocean.  Last to be thrown overboard was a huge wooden chest.  The crew gave it a heave, and the minute the crate hit the water, the storm instantly ceased.

The sailors knew they had been miraculously saved and attempted to regain the mysterious crate, following it for some time.  When they were unable to retrieve it, they returned to their original course, and the case floated away eventually landing on the shore of Sardegna near Bonaria hill.  A crowd quickly gathered when they saw it wash ashore.  Curious as to its contents, some tried to open it, but were unsuccessful.  Others tried to carry it, but it was too heavy.  Someone suggested that they call for the Mercedarian Friars.

The Mercy Fathers came in haste, lifted the heavy crate, and brought it to the church where they opened it and found that it contained a 5-foot statue carved from a single piece of locust tree wood (probably Spanish workmanship): a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus in her left arm (looks like Jesus is a fan of Bocce Ball) and a candle in her right hand.  The fathers placed the statue in the church and named it Our Lady of Bonaria.  Devotion to the statue quickly spread across the island and the world, especially among sailors who saw her as their navigator and protector.
Our Lady of Bonaria
5', carved from a single piece of Locust Tree wood
Our Lady of Bonaria in the Basilica
Proclaimed Patroness of Sardegna
Argentina Connection
When Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Mendoza discovered the land of Argentina in 1536 and wanted to name the coastal city, his crew of Sardegnan sailors opted to name it after their island's patroness, Our Lady of Bonaria.
De Mendoza disagreed.  He wanted to name it "City of the Most Holy Trinity."  There was a dispute among them, but in the end they settled on a compromise, calling it, "City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of Our Lady of Bonaria." Since the name was ridiculously long, the last word is what stuck: Bonaria, or Buenos Aires, which is Argentina's capital today.

Because of this connection, Pope Francesco (who is from Buenos Aires, Argentina) will be visiting Cagliari on 22 September of this year.  I predict the missionaries will get zero work done that day.

Devil's Saddle and Angel's Gulf
The square directly in front of the Basilica (church) leads down to a long stretch of beach in Golfo degli Angeli, Gulf of the Angels, called Poetto Beach.  This is Cagliari's most popular stretch of beach and spans over to Sella del Diavolo, Devil's Saddle.
The large divot in the rock is Devil's Saddle
Horn of Devil's Saddle

Devil's Saddle is one of the most significant features of the
Cagliari skyline.  When the mistral wind blows, it is possible to understand the origin of the fable that gave Angel's Gulf and Devil's Saddle their names.

Lucifer's Fall: Gustave Dore engraving
from Milton's Paradise Lost

Legend has it
When devils looked down and saw Cagliari's beautiful gulf,
they decided to take possession of it.  Heaven wouldn't allow
it, so they sent its best angels, led by Michael the Archangel,
to win it back. The battle was long and intense, but eventually
the angels defeated the devils.

During the retreat, their leader Lucifer, fell off his horse, whose saddle slipped and plummeted to the sea and became this petrified structure.  Since then, angels are said to have taken care of the gulf and have promised everlasting peace.
Blue Sea and Sky in Angel's Gulf, Cagliari
Pictures do not do justice to the color of blue the water is.  In Italian, there are two words for blue - blu and azzurro.  Azzurro is reserved for the color of the sea and the sky.  Now I understand why.

Me in Angel's Gulf near the Aragon Tower
An Aragon Tower, from the 1200s

History in the Gulf
This was an Aragon Fortress tower, now called Torre del Poetto (Poet's Tower), built in the 1200s to guard against Arab invaders from the sea.  Cagliari is just North of Africa.  Look South, and Africa is over there!

Two Hot Sisters
It has been really hot here.  High 80s with high humidity is hot.  Sometimes I feel like I'm melting on these streets.  And what do the Sards tell me?  "This? This isn't hot! Wait until summer. It gets 40 or more degrees hotter!"  In celsius - 40 degrees more is over 104 degrees fahrenheit.  Are you kidding me?!  Yet, guess what just arrived the other day? Summer.  We have officially done tracting in 100 degree weather in I-don't-know-what percentage humidity.  But there was a breeze, so it was bearable.  I am continually damp.  Yay Mediterranean weather.

Lollipops of Hope
Monday roles around and Sorella O'Connor and I have absolutely nothing to do, because we have no investigators and no pass-backs and no meetings.  So, we decided to do some contacting in the park.  Good thing we did because we found Maria Rita and Giuseppina - a middle-aged daughter and her mother.  We started talking about English Course that we hold, then got to talking about the Church, and then for the next hour we talk about a little bit of everything from Joseph Smith (who they think is very handsome from his picture) to sacrament services, from temples to the Book of Mormon.  They are super interested to meet with us again and set an appointment.  BOOM 2 NEW INVESTIGATORS!

Then we meet this jeweler who had received a copy of the Book of Mormon from past missionaries who visited his store, but never had an actual lesson.  He gave us his phone number to set an appointment.  WABAM POTENTIAL!

We then discover a sweet old lady named Adelle who met with the missionaries in the past.  We could tell she was really lonely because she recently moved from Sassari and doesn't know anyone, never goes outside, and never opens her door.  "But when I saw two beautiful angels," she says, "I just had to open my door!"  So sweet.

Then we set an appointment with a woman whom we haven't seen since a month ago.  We met with her and taught the Plan of Salvation, which turned out great.  Sorella O'Connor dropped the baptismal invite (we discussed it ahead of time, and felt that we should), and Rosella didn't say no, but she did say that she would have to pray a lot before committing.  We testified of the importance of gaining a testimony through the Book of Mormon and praying to know the truth.  She agreed.  WHOOP ANOTHER INVESTIGATOR!

That same evening, we decided to visit a man who Sorella Cojan and O'Connor saw and gave a Book of Mormon to back in April.  They tried to revisit him a million times, but he was always either busy or unavailable.  Sorella O'Connor thought of him, so we passed by.  He not only was there, he invited us in, with his copy of the Book of Mormon on the table.  He told us about how he had read up through some of the visions (probably 1 Nephi 8), and he said he liked it.  We gave a brief Lesson 1, testified of the Book of Mormon, and asked if he would like to meet with us again.  "Sure," he says, "How about next week at the same time?"  WHAT, AT LEAST 4 NEW INVESTIGATORS - I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING ANYMORE.

We danced all the way home.  We don't know what's going to happen with these people, but the fact that the Lord is just handing out free lollipops to us fills us with a lot of hope.  We can see Him being like, "These poor green sisters don't even know what they are doing.  Let's give them a little treat to get them going."  And it's working!!

Hoping for the best.  We are really buoyed by this week of miracles.  Everyone's prayers are helping us out.  The Spirit is guiding our every move - we can feel it!

To Understand a People is to Understand their History, Tradition, and Culture
Understanding a people is to understand their history, tradition, and culture.  If we can break through tradition and culture enough for them to see Christ, then we will have done what the Lord put us here to do.  Boy, if He keeps guiding us this way, who knows, the missionary work in Cagliari may turn out to be the real stuff of legend.

Tutto e Possibile!
Sorella Ashley Nef

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