The gorge in the mountain dropped steeply before us. Stepping carefully to it’s edge, I peered over to see if a path was discernable.
Nope. My friend was going to get us all killed.
The church on the other side was her target and following goat tracks down steep slippery embankments, children in hand, her only means.
It was a few days after Easter Monday, the traditional ‘must picnic or die day’ for Italians. I could hear the distant squeals of laughter from children on the terraced gardens far below.
‘If they got there, we can too’ my friend insisted.
Looking around to ask for directions, I glimpsed a mule far up on the mountain being led by his owner but he was too far up to call to. I hoped that along with the donkey and goats, he had a herd of sniffer dogs or Saint Bernard's to rescue us with, if it actually came to that.
Heart in hand, we very carefully (or rather foolishly) grappled with the descent, dancing with meager foot holds in firm rocks and tree stumps alongside dizzying drops, trying not to let go of our children at the same time.
With relief we hit the first of the cultivated gardens and my friend found the steps leading from the lowest garden to the church square.
Children were scattered among the terraced grape vines playing hide and seek, seemingly unaware of the beauty of the surrounding scenery. Their shrieks rang in the silence of the mountains broken only by the distant clanging of the goat bells above. A waft from the juicy Italian sausage sizzling on the picnicker's fire set our mouths watering but I’d foreseen lunch and brought ciabatta rolls for our kids.
Wandering up to the unimposing Church facade, I crossed the dark entrance out of the bright sunshine and into the cool interior.
This Church, San Domenico, built in the 16th Century, was a revelation. Expecting the ornate decorations of the Baroque Churches in the area, the simplistic frescoes framed with cool whitewashed walls left my jaw hanging. The red, blue and ochre hues set into niches contrasted perfectly with the white columns.
Most of the beautiful art work had fallen into disrepair and paint was chipped badly. Restoration would be God sent here.
The monastery has long been in disuse. The place none the less remains a magical one with the tall mountain backdrop and the shimmering sea far below. Concerts are held here on balmy summer nights and a festival of lights celebrating San Domenico is held at it’s sister church in Praiano at the Convent of Santa Maria a Castro in the first week of August..
Of course religious festivals would be celebrated here too, and as we walked past the stations of the cross which lined the endless mountain stairs alongside the burgeoning grape vines under planted with potatoes, I couldn’t help thinking what a penance that would be on Good Friday.
On our way down the steps to Vettica di Praiano, we came across a man with a hefty sack of manure over his shoulders going up to the gardens. He cheerfully said hello and made a joking remark as we went past.
I so admired him as had I even been able to climb up that far carrying anything, no more than a huff or a puff would have escaped my lips, let alone a cheerful greeting. And I would never have dreamt of creating a garden in such a spot!
San Domenico is a must see on the Path of the Gods… click on the link to read my first post on the stair way to heaven (May 2009).