Costelluzza: The Solemn Reminder
By Timothy W. Tron
The rocks were damp to the touch, but the coolness and relief from the flies was refreshing. The climb through the forest was intense. All around the sparse trail, plush ferns grew, blanketing the forest floor. Here and there, granite boulders peaked above the greenery, their stillness matching that of the tree trunks that stood towering to the canopy overhead. Only two days before, we had scaled a mountain reaching 9137 feet while watching the world from high above the tall waterfall that cascades down into the Germanesca valley. Today’s climb seemed more intense, more purpose-driven.
Briars ripped at my flesh, exposing streaming trails of blood down my forearms. “Battle wounds,” I mused to myself. As I caught the group that had been dropped off ahead of mine, I was stopped by a very caring, dear, EMT trained student who was traveling with us, Nadine, who insisted she bandage my wounds. Looking back, it was just as if we had fought through enemy lines, and one-by-one, we were taking care of the wounded before we ascended further. Once my dressing was complete, and the remainder of my team arrived, we rushed onward.
As we climbed, it felt as if something were driving us.
There was a sense of urgency to the ascent.
In the back of our minds, the story of the people of the valleys fleeing their persecutors, looking for refuge here on this mountain peak which overlooked their village kept driving us onward. Some may have sought shelter from the cave below, but their attackers followed too closely, so in a sheer panic, they tore at the rock, hands, feet, anything that could grasp. The air emptied from their lungs, as their hearts beat in their ears. Their body’s energy spent, they called upon God to deliver them. Inside, a force from on high lifted them, their pains erased as the chill of the Spirit came over their beings. One by one, they reached the summit only to find that the men below, pushed by the darkness that ruled their world, would not stop their pursuit. There on the edge of the earthy terrain, the chasm opening to the depths below; the drop which plummeted beyond where the eye could follow. Nowhere else to run, they turned to meet their attackers.
Some knelt in prayer, others embraced their loved ones, while some chose to resist, but in vain.
Some say over three-thousand were thrown to their deaths that day. John Milton would be so moved, that he would pen the words to the sonnet, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.”
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.”
I sat on the cool boulder within the shadows of the cave. Looking out on that solemn stone surface, the edge of the earth disappearing before me, the mist of the sky becoming one with the feeling of sorrow filling my soul. I ate in silence, fe
eding my body’s need for nourishment. From the protection of the stones, I sat and chewed, trying to absorb the moment. There was no joy in that sustenance, only that it would allow me the strength to descend from this point. Something inside me wanted to hold onto this place. Part of me wanted to keep its memory in me, but fear of feeling that pain of remorse, the depths of which paled in comparison to the heights at which so many fell from when they met their fate on the horrific Easter day so many years ago, it all was so difficult to comprehend.
The sheer tragedy so long ago was still here; its mark forever cast upon the granite, like gravestones of the perished.
They did not all die. For if it were so, I would not be here to tell you of this story today.
Our tale continues.
Yes, the light still continues to shine in the darkness.
The students came, slowly, painfully, but they came. The pestilence of flies flew in clouds about our bodies. Satan himself vying for attention in a place where he had claimed his own, its darkness could still not overpower the faith that was shared. As the testimony was called upon, the air seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. His Word was spoken, out loud, freely with no fear.
God wiped his hand across our vestiges, and the darkness subsided; the cloud of flies dispersed. In the distance, thunder rumbled a warning. Not yet fully recuperated, we began racing for the trail to descend. Weary legs were called upon to carry us safely down the rocky path, winding back and forth in a seemingly never-ending drop down the backside of this monolithic reminder of the martyrs that have gone on before.
Our time at the summit was brief, yet the impact of its solemnness will live with us forever.
There is so much more to tell, but the gravity of this journey weighs heavy upon the soul. It will take time for its meaning and purpose to come to fruition in my life, as well as all those that made the journey that day.
I’m thankful beyond measure and blessed beyond belief to have made the trip, for with God, all things are possible. To know the obstacles that stood in the way, would in itself be enough to write about, but there is so much more to the story.
With time, it will come.
In all that we do, let us give thanks.
Thanks be to God.