Holy Blunder

It was a holiday in Rome today. I’m not sure what the holiday was, other than it had something to do with the Catholic religion and that everything was closed save for restaurants and churches. For some reason, this was also the day that our two official instructors decided to have a group excursion to three medieval churches located in Trastevere- just over the Tiber River that runs through Rome. We learned lots of fascinating facts about medieval churches in Rome, such as they were built on the other side of the Tiber so they were out of the technical city limits per a prior Roman law. I learned a lot of facts that I already knew from my torturous seminar in art history that started at early-Christian art and ended at the Baroque period, and I also learned a lot of stuff that I don’t remember.

The most memorable church we visited was Santa Crisanono. I believe. However, unlike Santa Maria or Santa Cecilia, I’m not entirely certain on the name since this church is not important enough for my worthless guidebook to include. When the 30-something of us entered noisily, some taking pictures with the flash on, others talking with one another and giggling, we found the first half of the front pews in the church to be occupied and contained locals intently listening to a man dressed in black robes speaking in a helium-induced voice. As visiting the church was part of our assignment for the day, and neither of the instructors made motions for us to leave, most of us decided to sit down on the pews at the back and watch the service and take notes on the church interior discreetly. A handful of students didn’t understand that a service was taking place, and wandered down the sides of the church, pops of light erratically highlighting side chapels as they took pictures, others’ giggles reverberated throughout the church. The church attendees ignored us with a grace not found in the US, and remained intent on the speaker with the helium voice. They gave us no scathing glances, made no hushing sounds, and didn’t so much as twitch. Soon, I began to wonder from where I sat in the back if they were even alive, or if they were perhaps life-like mannequins staring lifelessly at the man speaking who happened to be a priest in training. But just as I started to entertain that thought further, the black-robed, helium-voiced man raised his hands upwards. In unison, everyone gracefully in the front half of the church rose fluidly as if they were controlled by a puppeteer and began to recite scripture in Italian. I turned around to look at my fellow students who sat behind me, and saw a look of horror frozen on every one of their faces. The horror we all shared was the type that twisted time into a never-ending vortex where minutes become indecipherable and meaningless units of measurement. Time meant nothing as all our minds raced for what we should do next. Some students decided to stand in silence, attempting to blend in with the church attendees- perhaps thinking that despite the chasm of empty pews between the locals and us, they would be unnoticed. The rest of us fled as swiftly as we could trying to make very little sound, and the students who had attempted to blend in abandoning all plans and rushing towards the light of freedom right behind us. A dull roar of shuffling feet and quickly fleeing American students echoed throughout the church, but the locals continued to recite their scripture, not a single one so much as looking back at us with annoyance or curiosity.

Not to self: never wander in churches during a holiday.