On Easter morning two years ago, my husband and I got up early and ventured into the almost-empty streets of Venice to see if we could get into a service at Saint Mark’s Basilica. Of course we could, and what a perfect time to be there! Typically, tourists get about 10 minutes to shuffle through the darkened cathedral, peering up in a vain effort to see the spectacular 12th and 13th century mosaics. Once in awhile some lights come on, and attendants periodically call for silence. I’d rather look at the mosaics in a book.
But during all of the many services on Easter Sunday, the interior is brightly lit. And worshippers get to sit down! We entered through the side door and found plenty of seating. Although we are not Catholic and could not even understand the language, we felt entirely welcome. There were even some printed copies of the sermon in English. We spent a wonderful hour soaking up beautiful sacred music, mysterious (to us) words, and an ambiance of golden light. There was time to gaze up at the 8,000 square meters of breathtaking mosaics depicting events from the New Testament and lives of various saints. Of course, St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, is prominently featured. (The Old Testament is depicted mostly in the narthex, or grand entryway, outside the church itself).
As a bonus, the Pala d’Oro, a golden altarpiece usually covered, was wide open and brightly lit. The Easter experience at St. Mark’s was so spectacular that we actually went back for another service later in the day. Then we emerged into the beauty of Venice itself, feeling that we’d had a once-in-a-lifetime Easter.
I was able to see part of an Easter mass in Strasbourg in 2009. We walked into the cathedral just a couple of minutes before the choir started singing The Hallelujiah chorus. I’m not Catholic, either, but I am Christian. I’ll never forget the few minutes I was able to spend listening to that Easter Mass. It was breathtaking.