Saturday, June 24, 2006
As it turned out, we had the amazing good fortune to be out and about on the Saturday that is the feast day of the patron saint of Florence, San Giovanni Baptista. The Duomo was closed to all visitors, turning all away at the front doors but being long in tooth and wide in bandwidth, we went around to the side entrance, breezed past the guard, muttering "Massa", sailed in and sat down while throngs of people clogged the front doors, hoping for just a glimpse of what is the magical, some would say alchemic transformation of the Catholic Mass. Soon the mass started and the processional came dowm the center aisle, a full-blown spectacle that only the Holy Roman Church can mount. 125 priests preceeded by full choir, another 25 monsignors and a few cardinals following the auxiliary bishop, the Bishop himself, along with assorted men and women in ethnic regalia of varying sorts, all escorted the red Florentine banner to the songs of the people and the doleful churnings of the magnificent pipe organ.
The mass began and although it was said in Italian, was completely familiar. The cadence, rhythm, lyrical beauty translate and transcend all lingual limitations and boundaries. Italian, Latin, French, English--it's all the same; no more, no less beautiful. On this day, heady clouds of incense wafted skyward, to the magnificent dome detailing The Last Judgement, carrying the prayers of the faithful to the heavens on high. The people themselves sat with straight backs and firm lips, in great pride and satisfaction as their beloved Giovanni, the champion of all Florentines, was exalted and glorified. The unmiced words of the bishop's homily rang round and round the gigantic church, a perfect exercise in natural accoustics.
Again, it was an experience that I am helpless to fully describe, although I savor its memory in my quiet moments, over and over. O Florence!