San Pantaleo: A Poem For An Abandoned Sardinian Church

We all have our favourite places. One of mine is a 13th Century Templar church built in the Romanesque-Gothic style.

Chiesa di San Pantaleo is positioned on a hill on the outskirts of Martis, a small town in the region of Sassari, where I have been lucky enough to spend some time.

The building has undergone some restoration in the last couple of decades against challenging instability. Only part of its stone roof has survived into the 21st century, but this makes it an ideal spot for stargazing.

Throughout the year, excluding the colder and cloudier months of January, and February, I would go and spend time inside this beautiful temple.

Some late evenings, usually in summer a group of us would walk through the town carrying blankets, and bottles of red wine, the locals began to understand that we were heading for San Pantaleo. Other days, I would go alone to read a book, write, or meditate within the white stone walls. Or be the tourist guide to new travellers to the town.

I remember arriving in Sardinia in the very early hours of the morning and watching the sunrise from behind this church.

I remember a first kiss from the church vault with a girl who agreed to wake up at 6 am to see the sunrise.

I remember once after several glasses of wine, in broken Italian inviting the whole of a bar in the town to come to San Pantaleo, it was a Saturday too, but the barman didn’t mind, he was happy, and made sure there was a cup of beer in every hand for the rest of the night. The church was packed with locals, many came later on carrying guitars, to sing songs that every Sardinian knew the words to.

I rememer sweeping the church with a group of locals, to make its presentable for a bus load of Dutch tourists who would come once a week in Summer, after visiting the local vineyard.

I remember being shown the cryptic engravings left in the stone by past generations. I remember finding the stairs that lead to the tower.

And I will never forget grabbing, and freeing a majestic barn owl, that had wings spanning a meter wide that was trapped at the top of the tower. From that day on, I could almost anticipate him flying low over my head on evening walks, like he was saying thank you. It always made me happy to see his white against the evening sky.

It is a special place, a humble place, anyone that has been there will tell you that. I am grateful for all the hours or maybe even days that I’ve spent within those walls, and hope for many more star gazing evenings from 11 pm to the early morning hours in the future.

I wrote a poem about San Pantaleo, a couple of years ago. It brought back lots of memories, and I thought it would be nice to write about some of those memories and our connections to places. Below is the poem that I was very grateful to come across again, it made me realise how much I miss this church, but also how lucky I have been to have made so many beautiful memories there.

I write these poems
alone
drunk
In an abandoned church
That is falling down around me

My imagination is left to reminisce
Of events and formalities
That took place where I now stand

I feel the energy
Of the building without a date

The solitude of a building
Remaining without a friend
Watching all those it sheltered die
Everything around it changed
While it was left to decay

A hundred violent storms
Hardly wearing the walls
Of a building of such beauty

A hundred fires
Never penetrating
The cold white stone

A hundred acquisitions
From opposing ideologies
Never changed
The structure of this old soul

The building has seen more
Then I could ever see
In a thousand lifetimes

It knows more of God
Then I could ever know
In a thousand lifetimes

It knows more of me
Then I could ever know of myself
In a thousand lifetimes

It will stand long after I’m gone
Waiting for someone else to write a poem
About its arches
And its incorruptible presence

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