Friends were coming to stay. They had come before so we were looking for a new place to show them – the Abbey of Farneta! We had not wanted to return and disturb memories after Don Felice died. It was deserted. None of the buzz it had when he was alive – what could one expect? Down the steps from his study came two African priests speaking in Italian to each other.

‘Tomorrow there is an important mass,’ they told us. ‘Come. The bishop will be with us, and a band. Then prizes, in memory of Don Felice. A dinner too.’

The end of the Mass

We returned late afternoon the following day as suggested. The Abbey was full. There were two places next to a white-haired woman and a younger one, her daughter perhaps. Not only the bishop of Cortona but a bevy of priests in white habits assembled round the main altar on the transept raised above the crypt. The sermon was long. The mass was to celebrate the birth of Virgin Mary. From time to time responses were sung by which I imagined was a local choir half hidden with a band on the left transept. Perhaps to the amazement of the bishop, the dance band struck up at the end just before the clergy had left for the sacristy. It was time for the prizes.

When Don Felice died some years ago we had contributed towards a prize to be awarded in his memory, we heard nothing more and thought it would have become entangled in some enterprise or other but we were wrong. Belatedly, prizes were to be awarded. And so they were, after lengthy speeches full of congratulations but not

A prizewinner speaking

enough about the man himself. The wide range of prizes, followed by a long description and an even longer speech of acceptance, showed the immense range of Don Felice’s interests. I remembered there were some bones of a mammoth, and the distinguished-looking lady next to us was awarded a prize for her contribution to palaeontology. My thoughts returned to Don Felice’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The mammoth was safe, I heard, in a museum in Florence, but other bones were being assembled in a nearby museum of the area to illustrate how important it was in pre-history. Some of the pictures had returned to families who had given them to the priest. Someone even whispered that the world-famous Florentine Uffizi gallery might be interested… the swaddling clothes and Roman matron’s bones remained with the shell holy water stoop in Don Felice’s museum while years passed and the inhabitants of |Farneta wondered what to do with it.

The nearby hotel, for 20 euro a head, offered a convivial five-course meal which was spent in the company of palaeontologists – some of the ones we used to see assembled in the former cloister by the Abbey, I imagined – and a lively journalist covering the whole event for the local newspaper.

Well after midnight when everyone was leaving I asked the young people serving the tables where I could pay. They didn’t know. I asked at the hotel reception, but no one knew.

Perhaps this is Don Felice’s first miracle – two more needed before he can join Padre Pio and become  a saint.