Monday, 14 January 2008

San Marco and Sunday Mass

St Mark's Basilica is, of course, one of the most wonderful of the churches in the world. Until Napoleon ended the Venetian Republic, it was, essentially, the Doge's private chapel—the cathedral was elsewhere. But now it is the Cathedral, and famous for many events in history. It has been served by many famous musicians, too, including Claudio Monteverdi and Gabrieli. So one might reasonably expect that the liturgy and music here would be something special—it still was until as recently as the 1960s. But no more, I am told. Such splendours are considered elitist. There is one 'big' Mass on a Sunday, at, and I was warned to expect guitars. I toured St Mark's a couple of days before, and although the High Altar has fairly sensitively been arranged to make a versus populum celebration highly possible, this clearly wasn't good enough. A little table had been put at the opening of the iconostasis with a high chair about two paces behind and a lectern about two paces to one side. That told me all I wanted to know about the liturgy in St Mark's. I wasn't going to risk it. Now perhaps some of you reading this might tell me that the table in front is all for show, and they carry it off on Sundays and in fact perform the most glorious music, but somehow, I don't think you will.

There has been some effort to make the sanctuary pretty. I suppose they use the High Altar when the Patriarch presides, having removed the stupendous Pala d'Oro and ferial reredos several feet back to enable versus populum celebration. The entire sanctuary, though, has been carpeted over—I presume it has one of those magnificent cosmati pavements underneath—with a pretty vile carpet. This pic is one I took with my phone showing the carpet, and the steps behind the altar.
If you'd like to see some more pics of St Mark's, there is a good selection here, though the site is a bit slow. Anyway, my friend and I decided to go elsewhere for our Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany. We found our way at 11.00am to the little church of S. Simeone Piccolo near the railway station, where the Fraternity of St Peter celebrate the traditional rites each Sunday, and had advertised it here as being 'with gregorian chant'.
Now I have 'feelings' about gregorian chant. When it is sung well, there is nothing better. When it is sung badly, there is nothing worse. In parish churches, it's usually sung badly. So I was a little apprehensive. I needn't have been. Two baritones sang the chant absolutely beautifully, and supplemented it with a Venetian Mass in two parts sung, again, beautifully, one of the singers also playing the continuo on a little chamber organ. The Mass was a solemn one, the MC being a priest I have known slightly in the past. What a treat for the Epiphany!
I took a couple of pics, but trying to be discreet (not using flash, for instance) resulted in rather a blurry outcome. Sorry.

The servers interested me a bit; the MC was a priest, as I have said, but the other two both wore cassocks with Roman collars and fascias with blue tassels. They aren't clergy—by some accident we saw them later having lunch in the same pizzeria, in lay dress. Perhaps they are members of some confraternity or other. The collar doesn't necessarily imply clerical status in Italy: I gather that even the carabinieri wear the Roman Collar when in formal attire.

It was a good pizzeria, by the way. Good and reasonably-priced eating is hard to find in Venice. This place, Ae Oche, not far from the church of San Giacomo dell'Orio*, has its decorative theme centred around American Baseball. We were much amused to see that they didn't quite know their stuff, for although they had collected quite a lot of authentic-looking paraphernalia in one corner, the pride of place was given, naturally, to the baseball bat. Only, er, it wasn't a baseball bat, but a cricket bat! I tried a photo, but it turned out even more blurred than the above.

* St James of the Black-and white American biscuit†



Mac McLernon said...

Welcome back, Fr. J. Glad to see you had a good holiday!

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

In respect of misleadingly named "Roman" collar, we should be aware that this is frequently worn beneath the collars of full-dress military and diplomatic uniforms, at least by higher ranks, and indeed always by the Lord Mayor of London with his state dress and lace jabot.

In no way, except in vulgar misunderstanding, is it a "clerical" collar, and indeed many clerics (eg. Benedictines, Oratorians) do not wear one.

It is however, very suitable for tidying up servers at Mass, as is invariably done in Rome, and should be adopted for all boys in English parishes instead of the variety of tracksuit hoods and tee-shirts on display.

Welcome back, dear Father, shame about St Mark's – it was still splendid when I went as a student in the 1970's, and all the churches were packed with low Masses every morning; and a happy New Year.

Fr Justin said...

Josephus: yes; that's why I deliberately avoided using the 'clerical collar' label. I wasn't aware of the Lord Mayor's use of it, though.
Yes, St Mark's is a bit sad now. Though they are by no means just turning into a tourist attraction. There is a daily Mass in a private chapel somewhere, and a large chapel is reserved in the main basilica for prayer.
I didn't manage to find low Masses on weekday mornings; most of the churches seemed to be geared to tourism in the mornings, and celebrated an evening Mass. Under the circumstances, perhaps this is a sensible compromise.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

The church of St. James of the Biscuit (I don't think I've ever read a satisfactory explanation of the origin of "dell Orio") looks rather unpromising from the outside, but the interior is worth a visit.

There is an altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto, and some fine painting by Veronese.