The Cloister of San Francesco: balm for the soul

What does the word sacred mean? An unhappy way to start a post in the era of obsolescent communication, trite populism and frivolity with no tomorrow?

Yes, it’s definitely all this. But the ancient Greeks, for example, used their word for sacred, hierós, to designate places and objects touched by divinity. By coming into contact with them, men could partake of the sacred: to a certain extent, divinity was infectious (a bit like stupidity today). Consequently, a sacred place was, even more than a place of worship, a place of healing: so it was a space requiring devoted care, because by taking care of it men would be covered from head to toe by divine pollen, just as do the bees as they buzz earnestly through the flowers.

These remarks serve two purposes: one is to ensure only steadfast readers will read on; the other is to introduce you to a place we recommend you visit in our fine Alghero: the Cloister of San Francesco. When visiting the Cloister is also comes natural to visit the attached Church of San Francesco in Via Carlo Alberto, in the heart of the maze of streets and alleys forming Alghero’s historic centre.

The tourist guide books describe it as an outstanding example of Catalan-Gothic architecture in Sardinia. While this is correct, we should add that San Francesco is not in just one style. Built between the 14th and 15th centuries in the Gothic style, in 1593 the church suffered a ruinous partial collapse. At that time, there was no concept of preserving the original style, so the church was rebuilt in the current style of the period, Classicism. An unforgiveable error? No, not at all. As you walk in, you will be able to appreciate the blend of Gothic and Classicism achieving original, perfectly balanced harmony. We must also mention the perfect acoustics of the building – often concerts of sacred music are held here, and we strongly recommend them. At all events, those parts which have remained fully Gothic, that is the most ancient, are the presbytery, the bell tower and, as we were saying, the attached cloister.

With rectangular ground plan, round arches on cylindrical and octagonal pillars surmounted by lightly decorated capitals, the cloister belongs to the Franciscan convent standing to one side of the church. And why is the cloister worth a visit? For the reason we were mentioning at the start: for its sacred nature. If you want to take care of the divine and if you want the divine to take care of you, the Cloister of San Francesco is exactly the place for you.

Of itself, this ‘care’ is not made manifest in extraordinary mystic experiences, in dazzling visions, in immeasurable epiphanies of the senses. This care rather harks back to the normal nature of small daily gestures, the humility of service rendered, the simplicity of ordinary, constant attention. In the motionless silence of the cloister, in its soft luminosity, these are the things that will make you able to act: to mend the small tears which here and there fatally appear in the cloth of each soul. Caused by the normal wear and tear of each day. And as you tend to these simple tasks of spiritual mending, very likely you will at some point experience a strange relief: as if an angel’s feather had lightly caressed your cheek.

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