Better late than never, this is the tale of the St. Mungo Singers October visit to Rome to mark 40 years of service to the Church in general and the Archdiocese of Glasgow in particular. It has to be said that the pilgrimage didn’t get off to a good start. In mid-August with less than two months to go, the hotel in Rome emailed our travel agent to say it was closing for renovation immediately! They did offer an alternative – in view of our numbers (57), we didn’t really have much choice about accepting.
Then when our tickets arrived, we (travel agent and organisers) discovered that the airline (which shall remain unnamed) had changed what had been a reasonable flight departure time to one of 6.45 am with over 4 hours hanging around in London Heathrow. Understandably we were now wondering if someone was trying to give us a message. In one final twist, two of our pilgrims had to pull out at less than a week’s notice.
Fortunately the hotel in Rome turned out to be great, with reasonabletransport links into the centre, and the change resulted in one
unexpected benefit. We needed to find an alternative church for our Sunday mass, and, on contacting Scots College for help, we were really pleased to be invited to join them for Mass. The rector, Fr. John Hughes, the students and staff were waiting for us when we arrived on a bright if breezy morning and, after a lovely Mass, they entertained us on their terrace to refreshments, and told us about the College and their studies. Fr. Hughes in his welcoming remarks had commented that our visit was in fact well timed as it was the start of the academic year, and we had helped them get it off to a good start.
The choir had pulled out the stops to provide a full sung liturgy, beginning with “God be in my Head”, processional hymn “Praise to the Holiest”, Penitential Rite in the new missal setting by Mgr. Fitzpatrick, Bellahouston Gloria, Psalm 22, “Christ be Near” for the Preparation of the Gifts, sung Eucharistic Prayer, Sanctus, Acclamation and Agnus Dei, and the well known Lourdes Benedictus, followed by John Bell’s “God to Enfold you” for Communion, and Stephen Smyth’s Canticle from Colossians.
From the College, the bus dropped us back off in central Rome for lunch and
sightseeing. We found the area round the Colosseum closed to traffic and someone joked that they must have known that the St. Mungo Singers were coming. Then we saw the real reason – modern day charioteers advertising a new production of “Ben Hur”! Then it was back to the hotel to get ready for an evening tour of Rome.
The following day, we had an early start. Mass at St. Peter’s had been set for 8 am and our hotel was very accommodating in opening the breakfast buffet early for us. Then it was off, by bus, train, metro, taxi or (for the more energetic) foot. Even at that early hour, the Piazza was buzzing and the sunshine was beautiful as we made our way into the great Basilica. We were delighted to find that our allotted chapel was that of St. Joseph.
In honour of the occasion, the music for the Mass ranged from Tallis to Taizé, Bach to Tchaikowsky,as well as our own Mgr. Fitzpatrick, James Quinn and Dr. Noel Donnelly. It was only when we had finished that we noticed we had gathered quite a congregation who had clearly decided they liked our liturgy.
Our final day in Rome started with Mass at St. Maria Maggiore where we had been given the beautiful Cesi chapel. In recognition of the Marian dedication of the Basilica, we began Mass with Pam Murray’s version of ‘O Sanctissima’ “Mary, Full of Grace”. The Marian theme of the Mass continued with Ps 66, the Gospel Acclamation “Hail, Mary”, Arcadelt’s Ave Maria, and ending with Lotti’s Regina Caeli.
After Mass there was just enough time to do some final shopping and have lunch (and for one unfortunate member to visit the Quaestura to report the theft of her purse) before heading back to the hotel to reclaim our luggage and board the bus to our centre for the rest of the pilgrimage – Orvieto and the Istituto San Lodovico.
Some of our party were a little taken aback when they saw the old town where the Istituto is situated perched right at the top of a volcanic plug. Our bus could only go to the car park, part of the way up, and then it was a question of carrying suitcases across to the lifts which brought us to the back entrance of the Istituto
The sisters and staff were very welcoming and coped admirably with such a large group. The buildings of the Istituto form a veritable warren which has developed over the centuries but luckily no-one got lost on the way to dinner. After dinner, the hardier members ventured out for their first exploration of old Orvieto which is a beautiful town with Papal connections, whose narrow streets retain their charm.
We had hoped to have Mass the following day in Orvieto Cathedral but this proved impractical so we used the lovely main chapel of the Istituto, and the sisters joined us for Mass. Then we had the whole day to look around the town, with its Estruscan remains, mediaeval buildings, and its underground caves where Orvietans used to store wine and other goods, produce olive oil and keep pigeons. There was time to shop in the fascinating mix of shops or simply to sit in the sun and have something to eat and drink. Dinner was in the Istituto, and the sisters and staff were somewhat bemused when we treated them to a rendering of “Just one Cornetto” and cheers, as they served up that particular treat for dessert.
The following day, we headed for Siena. Due to roadworks, we were slightly late in arriving then discovered that the bus could not go into the old city but had to drop us some distance from the church of Sanctissima Annunciata where we were due to have Mass. The logistical challenge now was to get nearly 60 people through the warren of streets that is old Siena up to the church without losing any on the way.
The church itself was beautiful. Our organist was informed that he would be allowed to use the mediaeval organ in the church, much to his and our surprise and pleasure. This was tempered somewhat when David (who had coped manfully with the various instruments he had been presented with so far) found he had to climb a ladder to the organ loft, and the seat was on a small balcony some 40 feet or more up overlooking the chapel. The next surprise came when he started to play and we found that the instrument was tuned up a third – there is no transpose button on a mediaeval organ!
Providentially most of the music chosen for the Mass meant that the upper voices were not too strained. Only in one piece did one section (which shall remain unidentified) decide that discretion was the better part.
After Mass there was time to get a taste of Siena’s beautiful architecture, including the Duomo and the Square where the Palio takes place, and sit in the sun for lunch before finding our way back down to the bus, with a determination to come back another time and really see the city.
For our final full day, we travelled to Assisi. We celebrated Mass in the lovely Santa Maria degli Angeli before heading up to the older part of the town. Our Mass began with Bruckner’s “Locus Iste” which felt particularly appropriate in that setting. The gospel was also very apposite for the town of St. Francis, with its mention of sparrows. Fr. Brendan Murtagh ( a notable birder), in outlining the life of St. Francis, reminded us that Francis saw God in everything in nature and in everyone.
We then headed into Assisi to have lunch and to visit the many places associated with St. Francis, including his tomb, before returning to Orvieto to a final dinner and a thankyou presentation to Sr. Giovanna and the Istituto.
The following day – after some excitement the previous evening as one of our group who had tripped had to make a late night visit to the local hospital where fortunately they were able to deal with a dislocated shoulder – we had a last opportunity to shop etc before heading for the airport.
There was some final excitement for a small part of the group who had be come back via Gatwick when their flight from Rome was delayed, leaving them to sprint through Gatwick to make their connection with the last flight to Glasgow (which was making its final boarding call). Miraculously the luggage also made the connection. And so we returned to Glasgow, tired but full of enthusiasm for all we had seen and done, and agreeing that it had been a suitable celebration of our 40th Anniversary.