Domenica morning in Italy just had to mean a visit to a church, not just for me but the entire Christian world for that matter, and to mark the occasion of me being in the country where all the Roman Catholic shenanigans kicked off, I thought I’d give a cathedral a whirl.
The previous day I had considered a Saturday evening trip to confession like I used to do with my Dad in the good old days before my cynicism overtook my Catholicism. However, the words “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is forty seven years since my last confession.” probably wouldn’t have gone down all that well with the priest and the penance he would have doled out to me would have put a bit of a dampener on my holiday. I was only going to be in Italy for eight more days and I’m not sure I could have recited sufficient Hail Marys in that time to have had my dark soul absolved of sin, and I don’t think my aging knees could have coped with all that kneeling to pray even if I had tried.
So with a body and mind still awash with evil, I set off on an early morning walk to take in Ortiga’s deserted narrow streets before the tourists got there to clutter them up, and to admire the splendid view across the harbour full of luxury yachts, sardine fishermen’s boats, basking dolphins, shopping trolleys, floating Coca Cola cans and used condoms.
By the time I reached Piazza del Doumo the sun was out in all its glory and the old cathedral looked incredible from the outside, and from the inside it was just as good except there were people with loud shirts and loud American accents and people looking for monetary donations. I gave a two Euro coin to a lady with a collecting box and made a wish but despite this the loud people didn’t go away. I still don’t know what the Italian word for ‘refund’ is.
Apart from Guinness and bare knuckle fighting, there is nothing in the world that I like more than the inside of a beautiful old church and this one had the lot. It was beautiful beyond words. Even the candles of hope that you light for the sick and the needy and Leeds United were state of the art jobs, powered up not by lighting a wick with a spill but by flicking an electric switch. Old traditions never completely die so it was still necessary to put a penny in the tin to finance this facility, so two more Euro were gone from my pocket but it was but worth every cent! And what made this even better was the fact that you could flick more than one switch without anybody noticing, so you could get a lot more hope for your Euro than you were really entitled to. Is that wicked?
Having eased myself into a church frame of mind I thought it would be a good plan to leave the cathedral and go to have a look round somewhere that was possibly a little less ornate and a bit more of a hard core working place of worship. The Church of Santa Lucia at the far end of the piazza seemed like the perfect place. Smaller and less adorned with the spoils of the Catholic Church’s power over its people, it too was immaculately beautiful inside with particularly lovely floor tiles and a painted ceiling. It seemed that the best way to view these two features in equal measure was to lie on the floor face down and then roll over and over and over again, taking the time to blink or rest the eyes during the phase of rotation when the walls were directly facing me. The centrepiece of this magnificent building, however, was an original painting by Caravaggio of Seppellimento di Santa Lucia (the Death of Saint Lucy). Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in the church but with time on my hands I took the opportunity to sketch it for you dear reader (see below).
Seppellimento di Santa Lucia - Caravaggio (1608).
Before leaving the church I bought a postcard of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy and a fridge magnet, also of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy. So with my first postcard and fridge magnet tucked away in my happy wanderer’s knapsack and the sun shining with all its Sicilian might, I felt that my holiday was well and truly underway.
The next stop on my walkabout was another old church just twenty metres away and one that was even less churchy than the Church of Saint Lucy. This place was no longer a place of worship at all and had been restored and converted into an art gallery known affectionately as Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea Montevergini. Today it housed an exhibition of the work of Perrin a Siracusa. I stuck my head in and had a look round, not just because it was free but because some of the artist’s pieces looked like they could be used on the covers of Siouxsie and the Banshees albums, I had the place to myself and, despite its change of use, it was still a fabulous old ecclesiastical building.
Soon it was time for me to abandon the church aspect of my Sunday morning promenade. I had been surprised but not disappointed that Mass was not being said in any of them. I’ve got nothing against the saying of Mass for those who want it but had there been religious ceremony going on I wouldn’t have been allowed into these places, or if I had been allowed in I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there. Perhaps the absence of formal worship meant that after two thousand years of Papacy, Sicily was coming round to my way of thinking. I’m sorry if my way of thinking doesn’t correspond with yours, dear reader. It is only my way of thinking. I hope you can respect that, as I respect yours.
Other things that surprised me during my ramble round the island included the fact that all of the buskers used a cheap and tacky looking trophy for collecting donations from passers-by. They were all about fifty centimetres high (the trophies, not the buskers) and looked like the sort of thing you might be awarded with for winning a pool tournament in a pub in Wigan. This was enough to make me want to go home and learn to speak Italian so that I could return and investigate why they didn’t just use an old hat or a cup like buskers do in the rest of the world.
Wigan & District Pool & Accordion Playing Champion 1976.
Equally as surprising, but not as easy to stare at, was the man on the little wooden swimming platform by the sea who was wearing a pair of very tight Union Jack patterned Speedos as he narcissistically paraded up and down whilst talking on his mobile phone and adjusting his salami and two olives. I would show you the paparazzi-esque photograph that I took of him but I’m afraid I sold it to the Sunday Mirror to support their story about budgie smuggling being rife amongst members of the British National Party.
Influenced by my incredibly beautiful surroundings, for the whole of the day I had the song Santa Lucia rattling around in my head. Enrico Caruso sings it even better than I do myself.