St. Mark’s, Venice, Good Friday, 2014

Heeding a friend’s advice that we probably wouldn’t get a chance to light a candle at St. Mark’s, given the way that tourists are herded through the cathedral at a gallop, we chose not to join the long, long lines attempting to get in.

However, a visit was by no means out of our sights. We had picked up a leaflet in Italian of the services planned for St. Mark’s for the Easter weekend, and spotted that they were doing a 9 p.m. veneration of the church’s seven sacred relics from Christ’s Passion that evening (Good Friday)—no tourists allowed.

So by 8:15 we were lined up (actually first in line, and of course minus cameras) at the admission point, a small door tucked away at the side of the cathedral—yes, we indicated to the security guys in their red jumpsuits, of course we’re here for the service—and at 8:30 took seats in the front row. We were eventually joined by about 200 others, mostly regular parishioners it seemed, a small crowd scattered around the centre of the basilica, beneath the great domes.

It was an hour of subdued splendour: a solemn procession led by the patriarch to a central altar where they displayed the seven sacred objects—a thorn from the crown of thorns, a fragment of the robe, a drop of the precious blood, and so on—each in their heavily ornamented reliquaries, each carried by a red-robed celebrant.

Readings from the Bible pertaining to each object were punctuated by magnificent choral moments from an invisible choir, we were blessed by the bearers of each of the objects in turn, all of it low-key, reverent, and giving us a real sense of being included in a moment when the cathedral was being used for its intended purpose, whatever views you might have had about the authenticity of the objects themselves. We were delighted and uplifted at the simplicity, strength of belief and reverent calmness of it all.

 

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