|The head of the procession pauses outside S Francesco della Vigna before setting off; the proper sequence of photos begins below|
But still, against ever-greater odds, there persists (or subsists) another Venice... Friday night the Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, celebrated a mass at the church of San Francesco della Vigna to cap off the end of the month of Mary (May), then led a procession from that church to the grand basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo. It's easy enough when visiting churches in Italy to believe most are filled only for Christmas and Easter, but it was a full house in San Francesco della Vigna Friday night, and it was a vocal crowd, praying and singing, that followed the Patriarch and the statue of Mary along the route between the two parishes. This particular procession was initiated just 25 years ago, though following in its wake you'd be excused for imagining it went back a good deal longer.
While I stood near the entrance of San Francesco as the service before the procession was coming to its end, a group of 7 or 8 people of various ages (obviously in Venice for the Biennale) wandered in, attracted by the open door and the light and the reasonable expectation in a town filled with various off-site art exhibitions these days that here was another one. One young woman at the rear of the group made it only to the threshold, where she groaned (in English) to a nearby friend, "I'm so drunk," then retreated into the open air. Most of the rest stayed long enough to discover that, oddly enough, there was actually a religious ceremony going on this church, then also went back outside. Not even the spectacle of it was enough to hold their attention for more than a half minute. Only one young man stayed longer, and even ventured further into the church. But only, I soon saw, to get a couple of the free candles available to those planning to participate in the procession. He exited as soon as he had them, holding them up triumphantly to show his friends, happy to have scored some freebies--like the canvas bags and other "gadgets" (as the Italians call them) given away at Biennale openings. With the cigarette lighter of his smoking friend he lit the candles, then the group began their own ragged procession to the next party or bar.