This Saturday at 5 pm there will be a Mass celebrated in our little chiesina at Longoio. Yesterday it was dutifully cleaned, prepared and florally decorated by local ladies.
Masses in days of obligation are normally celebrated on Sunday mornings so why this odd time? Necessity: there is, as is well-known, a shortage of priests, (few of today’s youth fancy a job description with low pay and no sex) and one priest has to service several parishes. The relatively recent institution of lay deacons can celebrate Mass except for the Sanctus and Eucharist – communion wafers must have already been blessed beforehand by the priest.
In fact it’s lucky there is not only a Mass, but a chiesina here in Longoio in which to celebrate it, for several places of worship are now neglected or even reduced to rubble. On the entry to Vetteglia, for example, there is a ruined church once dedicated to Saint Rocco, the patron saint of plague and their victims. Since occurrences of the plague in most parts of Italy are now a thing of the past, thanks to improved medical hygiene, churches dedicated to Saint Rocco are, for the most part redundant.
Another example of a ruined chapel is at Refubbri where the Oratory of the Visitation of The Virgin Mary to Saint Elizabeth, mentioned in a famous poem by Robert Browning, is fast succumbing to creepers and (now that its roof has largely gone) to the elements. (For more information and photographs on this sad situation do visit my special web site at http://refubbri.tripod.com/engstart.htm).
Our chiesina of St Mary of the seven Dolours may, perhaps, be heading that way too if nothing is done about its fabric. Last week a local friend of ours was pointing out with great anxiety the state of the exterior roof tiles and the cracks down part of the building which dates back to 1631.
In England the redundant churches fund provides some help for ecclesiastical buildings which no longer serve their original purpose because congregations have dwindled, not only because of today’s increasing secularization, but also because the original population who built the church has reduced considerably.
In Wales the spacious proportions of chapels built during the explosion of non-conformism in the nineteenth century, and its subsequent decline, has meant that many of them have been turned to alternative uses. It’s Ok if they are edifying, like libraries and art galleries, but I am doubtful about the change of use of one chapel in Swansea which is now a night-club with strip-tease shows taking place on what was formerly the communion table. However, one should not throw stones at adulterers.
Both points of faith and population decline act in Italy too and are principally noticeable in rural areas. As the local priest once said to me – these buildings should be maintained and kept in good condition if only out of respect of the faith and hard work of our forefathers whose toilsome life in the fields was in some respects made tolerable by the humble vision of heaven these buildings presented to them.
On the bright side we have two chiesine with devoted patrons and helpers: one at La Serra, which I have previously written about and one at nearby Gombereto, restored to its former gracefulness by voluntary help and contributions from people who understand undying values.