Everyone has a hobby – sports, horses, music. Today food is considered a hobby. Or if you’re a hipster maybe records, mustaches, or ironic T-shirts are your hobbies.
But it is not every day that you meet an unordained gay man whose hobby is Catholicism and Church.
I have been to the most extraordinary place run by a wonderful character who collects priest vestments, prayer books, holy relics (bits of dead saint’s bones), century old frescoes, Cardinal hats and incense sifters. This is La Scarzuola.
In 1218 St. Francis (of Assisi) settled on this spot and a proper Franciscan monastery was built. It was here that Francis (Saint) was said to have levitated, all magical holy and stuff. But like all things, after some hundreds of years the place was abandoned and left to ruin until this crazy guy, Buzzi, bought it way later, in 1956. He did a ghetto restoration of the church, but Buzzi was mostly concerned with crafting his wacky dream – an elaborate spread of architectural delights, gardens, sculptures (including a three-story high female bust with the biggest nipples ever), fountains, pools, and outdoor theaters. Basically his own personal dream of a playpen.
The owners of Scarzuola today seem to be much more interested in the Catholic church than the hedonistic playpen of decades earlier. Having fully restored St. Francis’ monastery to match the original, they’ve filled the church with every Catholic trinket and artifact necessary for mass, or any holy time for that matter. The result is truly an artistic masterpiece, a place and a life so unlikely, so surprising, that it seems to exist in a magical bubble far beyond the sameness of cubicle land back home. It is certainly a hidden gem of Umbria.