The decision to go to the bar and have a cappuccino resulted in us (my husband and myself) missing the chance to get a chair because when we entered the Pantheon last Sunday morning all seats had been taken. At 8am on Pentecost day the sun was shining hot as we had made the journey by bus from the hostel to the temple; the centre of Rome was already busy with eager tourists.
Inside the building the seating area was cordoned off as hundreds of people poured in; we were lucky enough to be standing right up to the rope giving us a good clear view of the proceedings before, during and after the ceremony. We knew we were going to be there for about three hours and got mentally prepared for it.
The venue itself is worth the experience. I had revisited the Pantheon back in November and looked in awe while a light soft rain poured through the circular opening in the roof, glittering in the shaft of light as it fell on the beautiful marbled floor. This time though I had come for something special and was determined to stay standing for as long as it took.
I believe that looking up into the opening above at regular intervals is what kept me there. This circle is a window open to the sky like an enormous eye (oculus is the latin name) the eye of the Gods; you look into it and it looks down on you and you feel observed at all times. I watched the sun projecting a blinding luminous circle that moved across the internal wall in slow motion illuminating statues, decorative columns, triangular pediments and niches picking them out one by one like characters in a play that has been performed daily throughout the centuries.
This eye I felt, kept me glued to my spot and helped me get over the restlessness, the impatience and the back pain until the choir started singing and the ceremony began. Though I have not been at Mass in a very long time and I admit that I was there mainly for the final event, the music and the ritual brought me back to the time when I was a child and I allowed the rhythmic chanting of the prayers to bring me into a space of stillness and calm.
When, at the end of the Mass, a rain of fluttering rose petals started coming down from the oculus a big loud Ahhh! came from the crowd, a kind of released tension that had been building up inside each one of us, waiting for this moment. It was magical and moving and visually powerful to see the petals slowly falling on the floor of the temple. After the procession of priests had left the church, a group of children where invited to enter the central area of the floor covered with the petals and play with them until, unable to hold it off any longer, the adults too broke ranks and jumped over the ropes and dived into a playful rose petals orgy, with no regard of age, creed or race trowing handful of petals into the air with wide grins of sensual satisfaction on their faces while cameras, phones and iPads where snapping incessantly to immortalise a moment of pure ecstasy of both pagan and religious nature.
I did myself join in of course and stayed there until my husband dragged me outdoors where the heroes of the event, the firemen of Rome who had climbed the cupola to perform the rose petals’ magic under the scorching sun, now stood proudly beside their red fire engine.
“Do you think they were wearing harnesses?” I asked my husband, but we both agreed they must have wore wings instead.