Sunday, 10 June 2007

A religious procession...


.... just went past under my window.

Usually when I can hear other people's music through my open window it's the exceedingly camp chap on the corner who plays selections from the back catalogue of Kylie, Madonna and Wham! at top volume and dances affectedly on his balcony. He does this every weekday afternoon, between 14h and 16h, for about half an hour. Some times he is topless, or even on occasion in just his pants. In the evenings he sits out on his balcony with some candles lit and chats loudly with his mates. I barely register the G.A.Y.athon any more, it is a kind of daily aural wallpaper, albeit of an eccentric kind. In fact it is almost welcome, I like to think that after lunch and before settling down to work for the afternoon one needs a spot of camp dancing on the balcony.

But when the sounds of a large number of people singing a non-descript hymn accompanied by a crudely amplified guitar ascend to the window, I have to take a second look. As I crossed the room to lean out my nostrils were assailed astonishingly by a strong waft of incense. My god. (More, or perhaps in this case, Less). Smelling church incense in your bedroom is just damn weird. I went to a Cathedral School in south-western England, so my formative church-going expereinces were of an extremely high church, quasi Anglo-Catholic kind. Consequently the incense is familiar - almost comforting - but loaded with Proustian recall. Somehow the smell wafting - with some vigour and one might say evangelical determination - right through the flat, was profoundly unsettling.


So I leaned out of the window and, lumme, there was this procession outside... altar boys and girls, people carrying embroidered banners, vestmented clergymen, a silk canopy with four bearers, and was that some kind of relic being carried through the dusk? surely not. Behind came a woman strumming her guitar and singing the hymn, wired up to an amplifier system on a tatty estate car driving at walking pace behind her, and behind that a procession of, at a guess, some 700 or 800 people.
The majority of the processees were women and the elderly, as one might expect given the traditional profile of the devout since, er, well, forever. There were a good number of families with kids and babies in prams and unexpectedly a small group of lads in tight sleeveless tops and naff trainers who can't have been more than 22, walking together. Not your traditional candidates for a religious procession.

I should point out that my windows open out onto a little backstreet: the procession turned right onto it from an even tinier road and then right again down onto the street which links the two main roads of the area, via Appia Nuova and the Tuscolana. Presumably they belong to one of the local parishes: I confess that, since I don't confess, I'm not sure where my nearest church is. Why, I wonder, are they processing? I decide not to just bellow ma che state a fa' out of the window, it might not go down too well.

Wikipedia proposes that this is the feast day of San Massimo, and offers for our delectation no fewer than 6 San Massimos (Sans Massimo? San Massimi? this is not a plural I have ever previously had to confront). Only two of the 6 are celebrated today, however, helping us to narrow down the options. One is Napoletano, a 4th century bishop of that city, a noted theologian and defender of the Nicene Creed, the other is a third century martyr from Aveiano in the province of Aquila who died a typically nasty death after a spot of torture kindly laid on by his local authorities. And to think we moan about recycling facilities they don't provide. Anyway it is possible that they were processing in honour of one or other or indeed both of these San Massimi/s. Or of course that it was for some other purpose of which I am heretically ignorant.

I can't say it was unpleasant, the unexpected aural and aromatic arrival of an incomprehensible and profoundly foreign religious ceremony in my bedroom. Though it might pall if it were a weekly event. The hymn, by the way, was decidedly inferior. Despite the amazing tradition of sacred music at its disposal I find that the Catholic Church often uses disappointingly mediocre music in its services, whereas there are some English / Anglican hymns of extreme beauty, both lyrically and melodically. Doubtless the Vatican might argue that this is further proof of the devil having the best tunes.

3 comments:

De Vertalerin said...

My father, a convert to Catholicism, also complained about the inferior church music. However, although the music of the great Anglican cathedrals is sublime (and the wonderful French gothic cathedrals sometimes feel empty, lacking this tradition), it has to be admitted that what goes on in small C of E churches is often dire, involving 1960s faux-folk badly played on guitars.

Church incense is Proustian for me too. Also my father at one stage designed thuribles (the thing they swing around with the burning incense in it). I wouldn't like it in my bedroom, though. Is nothing sacred?

TrentToffee said...

Meanwhile I was pruning an apple tree to a cacophony of lawn mowers and hedge trimmers.

You had the better day. And the devil does have the best tunes. Just ask your gay neighbour :0)

Anonymous said...

"Doubtless the Vatican might argue that this is further proof of the devil having the best tunes."

Brilliant. Hilarious.

- Juventino