Easter this year may not be the greatest in my memory. I’ve been down for the past week with a bad case of respiratory flu–the one that we all heard the flu vaccine did not protect against. Just when I thought I’d made it through the winter without getting anything, the virus knocked me flat. I can’t really complain, though. After all, I know one person who ended up in ICU for two weeks with this crummy virus. I’m getting better, but I may not even make it to church on Sunday. I don’t want to expose anyone.
Anyway, I’m contenting myself with memories of my most spectacular Easter ever: in Venice, several years ago. We got up super-early and hurried through almost-empty streets to the Basilica of San Marco, built in the 11th century and packed with pilgrims and tourists ever since. We were actually worried about getting seats. No problem! We breezed in the side entrance and found we could sit wherever we wanted.
What a perfect time to be there! Typically, tourists wait in long lines, then 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. Most times, I’d rather look at the mosaics in a book.
But during all of the many services on Easter Sunday, the interior of San Marco is brightly lit. And worshippers get to sit down! This is why the best way to experience a church or cathedral that’s a tourist magnet is to actually attend a service. Although we could not understand a word of the Easter service, we felt entirely welcome. There were even some printed copies of the sermon in English–at least we thought it was the sermon. Even in translation, it was hard to decipher. But no matter.
We spent a wonderful hour soaking up beautiful sacred music, mysterious (to us) words, and an ambiance of golden light. We ventured to take a few photos, seeing that other congregants were doing so discreetly. Mostly, though, we loved having time to gaze up at the 8,000 square meters of breathtaking mosaics depicting events from the New Testament and lives of various saints.
I’ll never forget the warm beauty of the mosaics in San Marco.
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. The streets were getting crowded, and we figured we might never have this chance again.
Later on Easter morning, we wandered past the English Anglican Church. The doors were wide open and people were still filtering in. In we went. The place was austere compared to San Marco, but we could understand all the words. Afterward, smiling church ladies, stationed at a table in the foyer, offered small paper cups to us. All churches have smiling church ladies and I love them. I happily accepted the little cup–lemonade, I thought, just like at home. Outside, next to the sparkling Grand Canal, I took a sip and stopped in my tracks. It was champagne!
Am I planning another trip to Venice? Maybe someday, during whatever passes for the off season these days. I think I would like Venice in the dead of winter. But I keep readiing that floods are becoming more and more frequent–tourists slosh around in rubber boots and balance on temporary boardwalks. The city, built on pilings in the lagoon, is slowly sinking even as ocean levels rise. There are high hopes for a new system of water control gates on the sea floor.
But there’s little hope for stemming the relentless tide of tourists. Residents have left the city, moving steadily to the mainland over the past generation. It is just too hard and expensive to live in the beautiful and unique medieval city. I just read that on a summer day, tourists outnumber residents 600 to 1. Venice is becoming a victim of its own glorious success, first as a world naval power, and now as a tourist magnet. Of course I’d have attended George Clooney’s wedding, but sadly my invitation must have been lost in the mail.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!