We took a little excursion for church today – to the Island of San Maggiore. It is right across from St. Mark’s Square (a 3-minute vaparetto ride) and is very small, with just a marina, monastery and church.
The church itself is pretty impressive – was designed by Palladio (who started a whole architecture movement) and includes paintings by Tintoretto and a crucifix by Brunelleschi (who designed our favorite Dome in Florence). But we were there for Mass, which we had read featured Gregorian chants by the monks.
When we arrived, a sign at the front announced that Mass would be in a side chapel for winter. The sign instructed us to go to the high altar and take the door on the right and go up the stairs. At the altar, we saw a very narrow door and ancient stone steps that wound in a spiral up, up, and up. We haltingly ascended and emerged into a little chapel that was surrounded on three side by wooden choir stalls, with individual seats for the monks to sit, with elaborate wood in between (like separate little thrones) and the name of the monk in a frame above each seat. There were no pews or other seats, so we stood there a little confused at first, until a priest pointed for us to sit WITH the monks! (At this point, we weren’t exactly sure what we were getting into, but just smiled and nodded.)
Soon, monks that ranged in age from early 20s to very elderly came in, one by one, dressed in black robes with shaved heads. A few other parishioners came as well. We had been to Mass in Florence so were a little more experienced this time and knew how to follow along with the readings (all in Italian), when to say “Pace” (“Peace”) and shake hands, and when to pray. But to have all that accompanied by these spiritual chants was very moving.
There were only about a dozen people in the congregation, and I think every one of us had tears in our eyes at some point. It is amazing how God is able to communicate even when we don’t all speak the same language.
P.S. – Afterwards, we took an elevator to the top of the belltower – incredible views of the Lagoon and St. Mark’s Square.