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La Sacre di San Michele

Northern Italy

The abbey of La Sacre di San Michele perches on an island of land, a promintory overlooking a flat-bottomed valley through which a road and train track wind their way into Switzerland.

We detoured up a convoluted road, hugging the side of a steep hill, and arrived just below the abbey in the late afternoon. In addition to the imposing walls and flying buttresses at the top, we were greeted by a symphony of Gregorian chants.

We walked into the abbey, stepping over ancient stone flagging, up a grand stairway and through a series of arches and tunnels, rising rapidly. With each step, the chanting grew stronger and deeper. The sound was simply amazing and at every turn, we expected to see a choir of hundreds of hooded monks, reverently singing in harmony.

Higher and higher we climbed until the arches and hallways arrived at an open air courtyard onto which the doors of the abbey itself opened. But there was no choir. Nor any monks.

Tucked in the corner was a $50 boom-box, its CD set to loop continuously. After all, it was winter and what monks with any sense would stand outdoors in the cold, chanting for hours on end...

Somewhat deflated, I looked for a photograph that would help recreate the atmosphere and mood of this 1000-year old structure. As is often the case, the best views are not from within the structure itself, but from a distance, so we retraced our steps and followed the winding road a little further up the hill. It ended in a small paddock, freshly ploughed and soft enough to sink into up to your boot-straps - or in my case my shoelaces.

I found a position that looked over the top of an orchard of leafless fruit trees and watched the sunset. Low cloud meant the abbey didn't light up as I hoped, but this was easily corrected in the darkroom. After printing, fixing and washing the print, a solution of copper toner was applied to the abbey using a fine brush.

Only three prints were made, two of which now hang in private homes. When I visit one of them, I marvel at how the copper toning has grown over the years, changing from the soft red you see here to a rich, golden yellow, almost disguising the silver image below. I think of it as a photo in motion.


The same angle photographed in colour.

Peter Eastway Uses

Peter Uses

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