My neighbour Steve was telling me his parish’s priest mentioned Bishop Stortford’s famous (some say “infamous”) Penny Farthing Guy (“PFG” hereafter) in his Sunday Sermon, asking if any of the parishioners knew who this mysterious PFG was.
The Padre’s Church Secretary followed on with her own musings about the PFG in their newsletter which I found posted on the ‘net, excerpted below. It was there that I learned cyclists indeed have their own Patron Saint: La Madonna del Ghisallo. So it’s official: Penny-Farthing riders are BLESSED BY GOD!
Photo: Father Guido Sarducci
Parish Note Friday 9th April 2021 and the Sunday Message from Fr Antonio on the Second Sunday of Easter
Bishop’s Stortford – St Joseph & The English Martyr firstname.lastname@example.org Fri 4/9/2021 2:02 PM
To: Bishop’s Stortford – St Joseph & The English Martyr email@example.com
For the past few months, usually in the late afternoon, early evening whilst on my way home, I have come across a gentleman who I encounter roughly at the same point ni the road each time, riding a ‘Penny Farthing’ bicycle. When I first saw him, I was quite surprised, but now he seems to be a normal daily fixture. I don’t know who ‘PFG’ (Penny Farthing Guy) is, where he lives, why he is riding a Penny Farthing or even where he got it from. Being an inquisitive type, I’d like to know and ask him all sorts of questions, but it might just have to remain a mystery (unless someone knows who he is!)
I used to love riding a bicycle in my younger days having the feeling of freedom and adventure. I recall going on all sorts of bike rides with my friends, sometimes daring each other to sit precariously on the handlebars or on the back carrier being scared witless. I also remember getting into trouble for having grease all over my white socks from the chain and for racing around on my father’s prized lawn with my sister, as we unintentionally created a shiny figure of eight pattern over the turf.
In my previous career, as a newly appointed and eager recruit, I was given a dilapidated bike to use to travel around an area of North Watford. It was a ‘character building steed’ which required a certain amount of courage or in tact stupidity, as the brake blocks were rather worn. I discovered this quite by chance as I tree wheeled down ‘Gallows Hill’ at at quite a high rate of knots, my eves streaming with water and cheeks flapping in the wind, unable to stop. The huge sparks that came of the bottom of the metal Blakey’s hammered into the soles of my uniformed shoes were quite a sight to behold before I finished up in the hedge!
There is actually a Patron saint for Cyclists, La Madonna del Ghisallo. According to the legend, the Medieval Count Ghisallo was travelling by the hamlet of Magréglio in Italy, when he was attacked by bandits. He saw an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary at a shrine, ran to it and was saved from the robbers. The apparition became known as La Madonna del Ghisallo, and she became a patron of local travellers.
In later times, the hill Madonna del Ghisallo was made part of the Giro di Lombardia bicycle race and has often featured in the Giro d’Italia as well. The Church which sits on top of the steep hill became a natural stopping point for cyclists. For this reason, a local priest, Father Ermelindo Vigano, proposed that La Madonna del Ghisallo be declared the patron saint of cyclists by Pope Pius XI. Nowadays the shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo contains a small cycling museum with photos and artifacts from the sport. There also burns an eternal flame for cyclists who have died. Its first action was to organize a torch relay from the chapel to the Vatican, delivering the torch to Pope John Paul I…“