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Window on Italy - Follow the Swallow of Primavera to Umbria

Colleen Simpson

Longing for winter's end? Follow the swallow, that harbinger of Spring, on its annual migration from southern climes back to Umbria. Shakespeare wrote of their arrival in "The Winter's Tale" Act 4: "Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares ... and take the winds of March with beauty." In medieval Italy swallows were not only symbols of spring, but also of regeneration. As a Christian symbol it represents the Incarnation, as it appears every spring to announce its arrival.

The swallow with its deeply forked tail and long pointed wings are noted for swiftness and grace. We watch the swallows arrive in the morning and evening as they swoop and dive looking for insects.

Swallows in Umbria

La Panoramica della Valnestore, Piegaro, Umbria

St. Francis of Assisi had a very special relationship with all creatures and the story of the Miracolo delle Rondini illustrates a special one. One day Francis was speaking to the people gathered in the Piazza Bartolomeo d'Alvaino beside that mighty fortress perched over the Tiber, near Orvieto, in Umbria.

The noise of the swallows chattering away while building their nests prevented the crowd from hearing his words. Francis said to them, "My sisters the swallows, now it is my turn to speak, because you have already said enough. Listen to the word of God. Stay still and be quiet until it is over." The little birds, to the amazement of everyone, quickly fell silent and did not move until Francis finished his sermon. One of several miracles attributed to Francis speaking to birds in Umbria, another was in Bevagna, but this is my favorite.

Capella dei Francesco

In the 17th C. Capella dei Francesco, within the Castle of Alviano, is a beautiful fresco to commemorate this miracle. Up high in the window are the rondini (swallows) patiently listening to Francis's sermon. Each year in spring, the town of Alviano celebrates La Festa del Miracolo delle Rondini of 1212.

Colleen's Window on Italy is a series of articles on Slow Travel. Read the article "Colleen's Window on Italy - Introduction" for more information.

Colleen Simpson lives most of the year in Piegaro, Umbria and operates L'Antica Vetreria (www.anticavetreria.net): a villa and four apartments for vacationing guests. At other times, you can find her in beautiful Seattle.

© Colleen Simpson, 2013

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