There are places we visit whose memory will stay with us forever. Places of particular beauty where something unexpected may happen catching us unaware and filling us with rapture.
Such a place is Trani’s cathedral in Italy. Our group had travelled to Trani from Ireland to spend a week making art and I, the facilitator was eager for the participants to get inspired by the best that the town has to offer.
In this lovely seaside town the cathedral stands out with its soaring structure, sitting right there at the water’s edge.
For the visit to the church I had prepared carefully planning to start off with an introduction to its history and architecture. But by the time everybody arrived it was time for us to go inside, we had only 30min for the tour and a wedding was due to take place. I decided to postpone my presentation until inside the church.
The crypt was packed with tourists forcing us to scatter for a while until we climbed the steps to the upper basilica, a lofty unadorned but majestic stone space, whose interior was illuminated by shafts of natural light filtered by the rose window. Thankfully it wasn’t crowded, the sober decor creating an air of great spirituality and for me, the perfect moment for my presentation. I looked around to see if I could gather the group when suddenly two voices started to sing accompanied by the organ.
The voices were beautiful and the music filled the entire nave mingling in with the light. My spirit soared, the body tingled. I wanted the moment to last forever.
It was a very familiar melody but I knew it wasn’t a religious one and yet in that context it had a sacred feel. I searched around in my mind but I couldn’t put a name to it.
“Hallelujah” somebody whispered in my ear. Of course! It was Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which was being rehearsed for the wedding that was about to shortly take place. Without speaking we all decided to sit there in the pews and enjoy the music. My presentation would have to wait.
After a while we moved outside where we got caught up in the excitement of the wedding as the guests started to arrive dressed in their nest. Two young children, a flower girl and a boy stood very still at the church entrance, their expression made serious by the solemn task required from them. Then the bride appeared stealing everybody’s attention. Theatrically she entered the church welcomed by the singing of the Hallelujah, accompanied by the guests and the tourists, us included.
Eventually our group re-emerged but not in a group format, each of us wandering around the exterior of the church, overlooked by the jutting gargoyles and a wide array of sculpted medieval beasts. The cathedral itself standing majestic against the blue sea and the sky, created a splendid backdrop for us to enjoy.
Slowly we then trailed back to the Palazzo delle Arti that would be our venue for the week ahead and where the serious work of art-making was awaiting (but not before coffee break).
In the end I never got around to do my presentation. Really it wasn’t necessary. The beauty of the place, the music and the people participating in a sacred ritual had turned the visit into a special experience where my spoken words would have been redundant.
Instead it was the work produced by the group over the week that paid a very fitting homage to Trani and her beauty, to the sea and the sky, the sun and the rain, and the welcome of her people. Hallelujah!