I used to be.
I used to go religiously.
That isn’t strictly true; I went for the music and the ceremony, and what little faith I had evaporated when my first marriage ended, in much the same way as my status in that community evaporated at the same time.
Still, I probably went to church as many times in those days as many do in a lifetime, and the thing is I continue to spend a lot of time in religious buildings. Now its for the architecture and symbolism though.
And so one morning during my trip to Bologna I opted to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a hilltop church built in the 18th Century, though the site has existed since the 12th.
The significance of the church is that it’s home to an icon of the Virgin Mary, supposedly painted by Luke the evangelist, a Greek physician who managed to fit in a bit of portraiture alongside writing the gospel.
There are two ways to the church, by road and by a covered passage (this is the city of porticoes after all) that runs 3.8km up the hill and was designed to offer protection to the icon on it’s regular trips down the hill to the city.
I knew the way up the hill was some way out of town, so left by the Saragossa Gate and kept walking, hoping for a sign that would lead me to the portico. I didn’t find it, but seeing a sign for the tourist bus route I took a road that led uphill. Meeting a woman walking her dog I checked I’d done the right thing. She confirmed that I was on the right track.
A kilometer or so further on and I’d seen no further evidence, so I began to question her advice. Perhaps my mistake was to say “sono Inglese”. Perhaps she held a grudge for some unknown reason. I decided to head off road when I saw a pathway leading up the grassy ridge to my right. It seemed like a good idea, though when the dew began to seep through my boots I questioned that too until I reached the hilltop and saw the church. On a different hill. With a deep and wooded valley between us.
I never made it to the church, but it was still worth ascending to the heavens. And carrying a telephoto lens.