A Solemn Procession

A few pretty kilometers later, we were back in Praiano, peering out the windows as the bus groaned up the steep hill from the town’s lower piazza towards Alta Praiano and our villa.

As we turned towards the right onto Via Umberto, the narrow road that curves past Hotel Margherita (our established morning cappuccino locale) and Pizzeria Jolly (where Tony swore to come at least once a day), the bus was forced to stop before it got to either of those places.

The road was blocked off. Someone on the street explained to the bus driver that the way was temporarily blockaded due to a procession of some sort. Instead, the bus veered upwards, coming to rest at a dead end to wait it out.

Since we weren’t that far from the villa, we said goodbye to the driver and hopped off, making our way down the blocked-off road. In the distance we heard a sing-song voice intonating over a tinny loudspeaker, slowly approaching.

Curious, we continued towards the voice. Farther down the road a crowd of villagers was moving slowly towards us, mostly women, a few children, a sprinkling of men, and a few stray dogs.

As they drew closer, we could see their faces: unsmiling, contemplative, somber. But their expressions were not twisted in pain; they did not seem to be wracked by grief.

The tinny, disembodied voice called out its chant, and the walkers responded in unison with their reply.

We stood to the side of the road, allowing them plenty of room to move past, a shuffling wave of solemnity. Towards the end of the procession, the source of the tinny voice finally came into view.

A woman holding a microphone plodded behind another person who was holding aloft a large loudspeaker on a tall pole. Then a priest plodded past with two people on either side of him carrying a small canopy above his head.

After they had all passed by, we straggled back to the villa, crossing paths with a couple of locals on the way. I asked a man what the occasion was, and he explained it was an annual religious event to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Domini (the body of Christ).  Processions and feasts (like the one we had stumbled upon) take place all over Italy so many Sundays after Easter to commemorate a miraculous event that happened in the 13th century: a pilgrim-priest broke a Eucharist and lo-and-behold it bled.

The pilgrimage would end at the cathedral up the hill a bit. I was intrigued, so when the others continued on to the villa, I veered off, loping upwards along the path that led to the church of San Luca Evangelista, dedicated to St. Luke, patron saint of Praiano.

The church we see today was built in 1588, but it covers the remains of a temple dating from the 12th century. From the upper terrace of our villa, we could easily see its graceful bell tower and clearly hear its hourly chimes. I had been drawn by the church since we had arrived and was anxious to see it close up.

The church of San Luca Evangelista, as seen from our villa.

After clambering up the steep alleys and steps leading to the church, I arrived breathless but in time to meet the pilgrims completing their walk. I stood off to the left of the entrance as the group entered the piazza from the far end and drifted inside. Curiously I peered in, observing them settle onto the wooden pews. Not wanting to disturb their meditations, I scurried back to our green door.


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