This coming week is the first anniversary of my ordination as a Deacon in the Anglican Church given the title of “Pioneer Ministry” recognising the role lived out in the cycling community among others areas representing the Church and faith in Christ Jesus. There has been many times where riders will comment on the community spirit and fellowship combined with a compassion and great empathy for each other being likened to that of a church without the 4 walls and a roof.
It was only a few weeks ago while on a bike ride that an organiser of cycling tours across Europe, Kevin Ford, spoke about a church he had visited in Italy near the Swiss border that was a church dedicated to cyclists by the Catholic faith. Had read about other cycling churches in England and New Zealand with great excitement as to what was happening in drawing a community together. Search on the internet and relying on the text being translated from Italian to English the following gives a brief history of a Madonna del Ghisallo to the point of having blessing of the then Pope Pius XII.
Colle del Ghisallo is a mountain pass road that connects Valassina with the top of the Larian Triangle The crossing point at an altitude of 754 metres above sea level, is located near Magreglio. A few metres from the pass is a small Church, the sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo. Its name comes from a certain Count Ghisallo which in medieval times in the place was attacked by bandits and made a vow to Our Lady to build a church in his honour if he survived.
The ascent of the Ghisallo (from the north) is traditionally covered by the Tour of Lombardy and is often been included in the route of the Tour of Italy. For this reason the Madonna del Ghisallo is particularly revered by cyclists and in 1948 the Pope Pius XII proclaimed her patron of the universal cyclists. On this occasion a torch votive blessed by the Pope, was brought from Rome to the shrine by a relay of cyclists the last two cyclists were Bartai and Coppi.
For many decades there is between the champions of cycling (mostly Italian, but not limited to) the custom to donate their memorabilia to the Shrine of the Ghisallo: these include for example, bicycles used by Bartali, Coppi and Merchx in their victories in the Tour de France, the special bike used by Moser for the hour record, and various mesh pink, yellow and rainbow. In those days the dirt roads that became rivers of mud, slippery when it rained, things have changed. So praying to the Virgin Mary to end the competition safe and sound was a ritual that each rider performed in perfect solitude.
Perhaps the gullies along the stages in the mountains today are less fearful and race conditions have changed. But the pitfalls can hide behind every corner, so the devotion to Our Lady continues to live. In the nineties these relics were now so numerous that there was no place in the small church: it was therefore conceived the project of a museum of cycling, to be erected beside the shrine. Chaired the committee for the construction of the museum was named Fiorenzo Magni.
After several delays, the museum was finally inaugurated on 14th October 2006 , at the Giro di Lombardia in 2006, with a ceremony attended by several past and present champions. The museum is spread over three floors and includes a multimedia collection of material on cycling. The most important relics in any case continue to be exposed in the church sanctuary. (Taken from http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghisallo)
For most cyclists faith is integral to their sport, we have faith in our equipment that our tyres will stay inflated, our brakes and gears will work even when we cannot see them in operation. We have faith in our fellow cyclists to lead and guide us with integrity, faith in being guided over the road surface, past hazards that can only be seen by the leader and pointed out by others in faith that there is something ahead. There will be some that we have faith in desperation with a cry of the heart “God help me” and others that will seek the highest level of faith for certain circumstances as a need arises. As Scripture puts it “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” it is unchanging for all times not just some for us who believe.
Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing