WE CAN EITHER travel into the centre of Funchal by bus or walk. From our guesthouse, the steep Caminho do Monte drops steeply down to the city centre. Most of the way, this almost a mile long thoroughfare has a gradient of 40 to 45 degrees. Walking down this slope does wonders for one’s lower leg muscles, especially the calves. The first time we descended it, my calf muscles began to go into tremor.
Our next attempt was altogether easier. On the way downhill, we passes a religious institution: a seminary called Colégio Missionário Sagrado Coração. Being Sunday, the gates were open for people who wanted to attend the Sunday mass. The institution is named in honour of the Sacred Heart. On either side of the door leading into the simply decorated chapel, there are car ings of hearts encircled by thorns.
There is a sculpture of a lion in the place’s large courtyard. Two busts of important religious figures stand near the chapel. One of them stsnds close to a terrace from which a wonderful view of part of Funchal can be enjoyed.
Although walking down the incredibly steep slope is slow, it is a wonderful way to observe deatails of life on the hills high above Funchal, and to meet locals standing on terraces over the road or in the entrances to their homes.
It might have been in the Bargello, or more likely in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, both in Florence (Italy), that there was (and probably still is) an exhibit that captured my imagination when I was a young child. Amongst a collection of holy relics housed in elaborately crafted silver and glass containers, there was one holy relic that looked a bit like the stub of a discoloured cigar. It was, so the museum label stated, a bone from the index finger of St John the Baptist. Whether it was or was not, this item fascinated me, and even haunted me.
Many years later when I was looking into the story of St Appolonia, the patron saint of dentists, I read that one of the miraculous properties of the body parts of dead saints is their ability to reproduce themselves – a feature that must have been useful for those who used to sell such things. I am glad that I had not known this when I used to stare fascinated at St John’s finger, which I then believed to be exactly what it claimed. That would have spoilt my amazement, which I always felt when I saw that piece of bone in its ornate container.