With a pronounced tremor, the pale white hands poked out from under their ornate robes and raised the chalice, golden and elegant, to the lips that drained its contents in one jerky quaff. (How none of it spilled is a mystery, it was a right storm in a chalice on its way up there, given the earthquake-like shakes it was experiencing.)
None for us, it seemed. And with that wine disappearing act, my knowledge of Catholic rites trebled – the masses only get the host, they can’t be trusted with the alcohol.
Our frail priest, clothed in his Easter best for this small Regnano congregation, gazed out at his motley flock with a sort of distant, resigned look. Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that it was arguably the most religious day of the year, and there was but a clutch of us to hear his words on light and new beginnings and doubtless other pearls contained in his – to me – otherwise unintelligible sermon.
On one side of the church the first two rows were empty, on our side the front pew was similarly vacant. Those of us that took to the benches dotted the remainder of the 5 rows somewhat sparsely, while still others stood at the back. It was like a lecture hall of reluctant students.
Why those fellows stood at the back when there were plenty of seats I’m not sure – to make a quick getaway, perhaps? My suspicions appeared to be more than groundless when one of the stand-at-the-backers came round to take collection, looking as if he had slept in his denim outfit, got out of bed, and come straight to church without combing his wayward mop, shaving, or even splashing a dash of water on his face. I turned to watch him return to the back of the church, untucked shirt tail flapping against the creased back of his jeans, just to make sure he didn’t slip out the back door with my €1.50. He didn’t. (We met him a few days later at our English friends down the road – he sold them their house and is now doing all their (substantial) renovations for them. His dress clearly disguises a shrewd business brain.)
Anna and Pepe (neighbours from
The church itself is beautiful, recently restored and reconsecrated, a sky-blue dome with stars and doves painting a fresh, friendly, and peaceful welcome.
But perhaps the thing I’ll remember most is when we were standing outside before the service on our own. All eyes were on the stranieri. Vitaliano separated himself from his cronies and came over, dressed smartly in pressed trousers, jacket and hat, to wish us happy Easter and greet V’ron – our English friend and landlady, and also Vitaliano’s neighbour – who had just arrived that morning.
For a man steeped in the traditions of the place, including a suspicion of all things foreign, this was a mighty big gesture. Small, old, and creaky he may be, but he certainly has a big stature in my eyes.