Sunday, January 9, 2011

St. Leo

I'm going to do two separate posts for today - one to talk a little bit about yesterday, when I finished my San Antonio AVA walk, and the second one to tell you about today's trip to Tarpon Springs. I want to put some pictures in and it's easier to do two blogs and put pictures in each one. OK - so yesterday we want back to finish the AVA walk that I had started on Thursday (I think). Remember, Brandi kind of pooped out on me, but I really wanted to finish the walk and I'm glad I did! The first half was walking around the very small town of San Antonio, which was kind of cute, but nothing ALL that special. For the second half of the walk, I was supposed to go over to the village of St. Leo, which is probably not even half a mile from San Antonio. The main thing in St. Leo, as far as I can tell, is a pretty nice golf course and the St. Leo University, which is what the second half of my walk focused on. And, boy, it was really pretty. It is apparently a Catholic university with a fairly broad range of general degrees, such as business, etc. Right next to it (or part of it, I can't really tell) is the St. Leo Abbey which is a Benedictine Monastery. Cindi, you'd have to help me with the terminology and the right way to describe this, but all I know for sure is that is was a very pretty campus with some very nice buildings (all of which were named things like St. Francis Hall, St. something-else some-other-kind-of-building, you get the idea). But what was really pretty cool is that across the street from the University was this lovely grotto. The walk had me go over to it, but it kind of sits right next to the pro shop of the golf course and I couldn't find it at first, so some nice kid came out of the shop and asked if he could help me - obviously he could tell from my wandering around helplessly with this piece of paper in my hand that I was NOT there to play golf! So, anyway, this grotto was SO SO PRETTY - you had to walk down a tree-lined path and it was set in this little deep jungle-like grove. There were two little stone buildings kind of set down into the earth, rounded on the top and all grown over with greenery. One of the buildings looked like a tiny little chapel with an altar in it, and the second one had a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary inside, with litle votive candles in front of it. But what was especially striking was that there were TONS of little notes (I assume!) written on pieces of paper and then wedged into the stonework all around the statue of Mary. It was very quiet and serene and sort of other-worldly. I loved it! There were also little paths running through the grove with another statue of Christ and a row of crosses that I think (again, Cindi, you'd have to help me here) represented the "stations of the cross." I'm attaching a few pictures, but they really, really don't do it justice. But the grotto was definitely well worth the return trip. (Oh, and I just remembered, there was also a slab set into the floor of the second little building that marked the gravesite of one of the early Abbotts (right?) of the monastery. He was born in the mid 1800's and died in the very early 1900's.
I looked it up on the internet when I got home (back to the RV, I mean!) and there's a nice write-up on St. Leo University and I also found some material on the grotto by googling that term. Apparently there are still pilgrimages to the grotto up to this day - the internet said several thousand people a year travel to visit it.
Pretty cool, huh? This is why I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the AVA walks - there's no way in a thousand years I would have stumbled across this spot on my own. It's like finding treasure when an AVA wlalk leads you to such a surprising destination - and I think that's half of it, because I have absolutely no preconceived ideas about what to expect from these walks and sometimes they hold such delightful surprises!

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