It all seemed a dream the morning after, and a heavenly dream at that. We’d talked about it for a long time and the day came. Meeting the rest of the choir outside Borgo a Mozzano’s Penny Market at 4.50 am last Tuesday, we travelled on our coach through the exquisite countryside of central Italy, which was flecked with a misty haziness, and reached the Caput Mundi by mid-morning.
There is always something quite beyond words when one arrives in Rome, truly the eternal city, the place where all roads lead to, the city that unites (for example) Lullingstone villa in the UK, with the Forum, with Lutetia’s (Ancient Roman Paris) amphitheatre, with the gold of the Emperors’ crown sifted from Welsh streams.
The empire still continues, although now, of course, it’s largely a spiritual one. That was the Rome we’d come to see – the Rome of the Church Triumphant of the Renaissance and the humbler and more genuine church of Pope Francis’s papacy.
I don’t want to add further ecstatic descriptions of Saint Peter’s basilica to the reams of words that have been written about it but the scale of this building, whose present shape involved the greatest artists, including Michelangelo himself, continues to impress even after one has been there before. It’s the largest church in Christendom and one of the greatest buildings in the world. The basilica’s overarching spaces, its immense magnitude, its colossal statues of saints in ecstasy, in torment, in victory, its efflorescence of marble and gold work their almost unavoidable magic onto you until you are transported into seventh heaven by a tide of cosmic wonder.
St Peter’s choirmaster met us with the greatest courtesy and we were taken to the place where we were to sing during the celebration of the Mass – the left transept and by the altar of Saint Joseph. We were positioned at the left of this altar; indeed under the altar behind me I could see the remains of a previous Pope – Boniface the sixth.
The Mass was celebrated by a young priest who imparted true confidence and preached a inspiring sermon. We sang four pieces by that doyen of contemporary Italian liturgical composers, Marco Frisina, at the Introit, at the Offertory and at the Communion and at the Ite Missa est. It was a little hard work to sing in the utterly cavernous spaces around us and we were not sure if our thirty-odd voices were suitably balanced – it was all a bit of guesswork.
After the event, however, we were assured that we sang absolutely brilliantly, that balance was not a problem and that the acoustics, slightly away from the main altar, were perfect. In fact, I think I heard some applause after the end of the Mass and the priest publicly congratulated us on our efforts.
So our choir of San Pietro and Paolo from Ghivizzano had now sung in the world’s greatest church – a truly wow experience – one of the best in my life and certainly one of the best in the lives of all our choir members! Our choirmaster, young Andrea, was also very happy particularly as this, remarkably, was his ever first time in Rome – what a great debut! Many more delights and wowing experiences were to follow us on our first of two days in the city of cities!
(Various spots in St Peters including Pope John Paul II’s tomb)
(Our happy choir in front of Saint Peter’s throne)
(Plus the newspaper article in today’s Il Tirreno newspaper)