EVEN after 15 Passiontides spent in Italy, it still shocks me
how casually Good Friday is observed locally. First, it is not a
public holiday, and trading continues unrestrained along Via del
Babuino and adjoining streets until dark. Then, if there is to be
any spiritual observance at all, it generally focuses on a
theatrical Via Crucis, such as that traditionally led by the Pope
at the Colosseum.
There is no sign of a three-hour observance, either from the
canonical noon to 3 p.m. or between any other hours - save, it
seems, at our own All Saints', which runs from 3 till 6 p.m.,
culminating in a last hour given over to the Liturgy of Good
This year, we shared Holy Week with our sister Episcopal church,
St Paul's within the Walls, and benefited enormously from the
more-than-doubled numbers attending, and the charismatic presence
of its Rector, Fr Austin Rios.
With the looks of a 1930s film-star, and a kindly openness of
address and attention, Austin has been a big hit in the ecumenical
life of the Eternal City since his arrival just over two years ago.
His wife, Jill,has also played a big part in revitalising much of
the already excellent outreach programmes at St Paul's,
particularly the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre, based in the
A joint Lenten fund-raising project, supported by the
English-speaking churches in Rome, has been partly directed to this
organisation to permit short-term housing for some of the centre's
users, who were previously only offered day-centre facilities.
The invitation for us all to "own" this truly worthy project has
had spin-offs into the vitality of our shared liturgical life: this
year, we seem to have passed a tipping-point, Holy Week
successfully offering occasions to gather together in numbers large
enough to attract still larger numbers.
Some of this may also reflect the "Francis effect" noted
globally by church commentators of all nationalities.
Solemnity half-hidden or not, this Good Friday was a good one in
THERE has not been a Cardinal presiding over the see of Perugia
since Gioacchino Pecci vacated it to ascend the papal throne as Leo
XIII. February's consistory - Pope Francis's first - changed
Gualtiero Bassetti received a red hat, and Umbria finally, after
more than 160 years (when Pecci, as Bishop of Perugia, was made
Cardinal), received what it had always thought it deserved.
Cardinal Bassetti has been in Perugia only a few years,
previously holding the united sees of Arezzo, Cortona, and Borgo
Sansepolcro, across the border in Tuscany. In that position, he was
encountered by chance by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, our former
diocesan, while he was being transferred from our annual 2009
archdeaconry synod in Assisi to Venice for confirmations.
The Chaplain of Venice's car broke down on Highway E45, and the
ecclesiastical passengers looked for a good lunch at Hotel La
Balestra, Sansepolcro, only to find themselves at the neighbouring
table to Bishop Bassetti's. O felix culpa, O happy fault,
not to have taken the car to have its MOT: never was a happier
chance meeting, or a greater ecumenical flourishing.
I ENCOUNTERED Cardinal Bassetti for the first time on Easter
Tuesday, at Preggio's solemnity of the Holy Thorn. My parents
bought a rural villa in the Upper Tiber Valley nearly 20 years ago,
and, if possible, it is thither that I withdraw in Easter Week.
This year's Pasqua coming so late has meant that the
villa's garden was already a joy - the hawthorn was in full bloom,
urging one and all to "cast a clout". And even if Tuesday brought
light rain across lunchtime, by the time I had driven up to Preggio
(27km by road, 8km as the wood-bird flies), there was the most
welcome late-afternoon sunshine illuminating the piazza in front of
Preggio is a tiny town on a mountainous spur in the folded hills
behind Perugia, and in the shadow of Mount Acuto. From the ruined
fortress at its highest point, the glimmer of light reflected from
Lake Trasimene is just visible across the wooded ridges. The entire
village (200 souls) was gathered either within or without the
church, and when the Cardinal arrived at this, the most northern
parish of his archdiocese, he was received rapturously.
The parish priest, Don Giuseppe, is also a professor of music at
the conservatoire in Perugia, and so the singing was unusually
elaborate for such a remote celebration, and the spirit was
decidedly religious. Other neighbouring towns (such as the larger,
but still small Montone) celebrate similar Easter Week solemnities,
but in a manner that might easily be dismissed as
focloristico (an Italian word derived from the English
"folklore"). Preggio certainly thinks so.
I delighted in the casual but chic dress of the lads who carried
the canopy in the procession that, post missam, wound its
way around the village streets. To view these festivities, visit
the village website: a remote-control airborne webcam followed the
whole thing with a startling 21st-century buzz.
Lavish, but effective
WHICH is better, Preggio's or Montone's Santa Spina,
Holy Thorn? It is claimed for both that they were once part of
Christ's crown, borne on the cross. Festivities in Montone
certainly have a more polished finish, as befits a pristine Umbrian
hill-town chosen as the site of an annual summer film-festival,
organised by Terry Gillingham.
Together with the Bishop of Città di Castello, Mgr Domenico
Cancian, there are sumptuous medieval costumes, silver trumpets,
and Piero della Francesca profiles. Bishop Cancian's sermon is
usually a hypothetical inquisition about the value of this
touristic spirituality - he is not all that popular.
The Preggio festa seems more natural and more
wholesome: it is somehow like "walking day" was in Lancashire
villages when I was a lad. But which actually communicates the
faith? Shouldn't we bite the bullet and admit that, for all its
virtues, Preggio's celebration has seen its day?
It is like the difference between the HBO remake of House of
Cards and the original books and British TV adaptation -
however much I long for the understatement of Ian Richardson and
the BBC, I have to admit that Kevin Spacey is masterful and global
in his ability to communicate.
Long live the difference. It is Pope Francis's moment.
The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is Archdeacon of Italy and Malta,
and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.