|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Florence, Italy
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Florence, Italy.
Roman Catholic, Diocese
The Duomo (cathedral) of Florence was begun in 1296, replacing
an older cathedral dating from the 6th century. Inspired by
the cathedrals of Pisa and Siena, and intended to be the largest
church in the world (a goal that was not realised), it is a
massive building with a 37,000 ton dome by the Italian Renaissance
architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The basic plan is a Roman cross
with a massive nave and two side aisles. The original façade
was never finished, and was dismantled in 1587-1588 by order
of Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici, not to be worked on again
until the 19th century. The stunning façade we see today,
containing polychrome marbles from Carrara, Prato and Sienna,
was finished in 1887. One enters the Duomo via enormous bronze
doors and finds oneself immerged in a huge, cavernous Gothic
space. The great altar, standing in the centre, is enclosed
by a circle of double Ionic columns of fine marble. Colourful
works of art abound, including portraits of Dante, Giotto and
Brunelleschi; a mosaic of the Annunciation; reliefs of the Resurrection
and Ascension; frescoes of The Last Judgment; and Dante Explaining
the Divine Comedy. There is also a bust of Giotto by Benedetto
da Maiano, from whom the young Michelangelo is thought by many
to have learned his craft; the crucifix behind the bishop's
throne is also by Benedetto. The stained glass is beautiful
beyond description; there are 44 stained glass windows by Donatello,
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno. Sadly,
many decorations have been lost in the course of time or have
been transferred to museums.
The Duomo was the site of the Council of Florence in 1439, which
almost succeeded in reuniting the Greek and Roman churches.
Its walls also witnessed the murder of Giuliano di Piero de'
Medici on Easter Sunday, 26 April 1478 (with Lorenzo Il Magnifico
barely escaping death). Here the faithful once listened to the
fiery sermons of Girolamo Savonarola, the puritanical Dominican
who preached that Florence should be a Christian commonwealth,
with God the sole sovereign and his gospel the law, and whose
followers went from door to door in 1497 collecting mirrors,
combs and other items associated with moral laxity, all to be
burned in a "bonfire of the vanities". No such drama
today, though – there was nothing special that I could
notice except the congregation was made up of locals and many
visitors. Many different races and nationalities seemed to be
represented. Even in October, Florence was packed with tourists.
The neighbourhood is simply breathtaking. This is old Florence,
the cradle of the Renaissance. Across, facing the Duomo, is
the magnificent 11th century baptistery of San Giovanni, where
Dante and members of the Medici family were baptised, and whose
doors Michelangelo called the Gates of Paradise.
The principal celebrant was one of the cathedral's staff, who
concelebrated with a visiting bishop and priests from Canada.
Another staff priest assisted with communion and acted as master
The date & time:
Sunday, 5 October 2008, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Mass: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year "A".
How full was the building?
All the chairs which were put out and the sanctuary pews were
filled to capacity, with many more people standing at the back
of the chairs. It was difficult to see the whole group, but
my guess was around 1000 people. Of course the church could
hold many thousands more than this standing.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A sacristan greeted us at the door and showed us which
way to go. Another sacristan with a big smile shook our hands
and handed us the mass booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard oak pew with a high back. We were seated in the sanctuary
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet. The associate priest came out at 10.50 and let the
assembly in prayers to Our Lady of Pompeii, followed by the
singing in Latin of Salve Regina. I was taken by surprise
by the number of people who sang along; most Catholic assemblies
would not, in my experience anyway, know any office hymn in
Latin by heart.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
Nel nome del Padre e del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo.
What books did the congregation use during the
A mass booklet containing the readings and collects in Italian,
English, Spanish, French and German.
What musical instruments were played?
Main cathedral organ played with much skill. There is a wonderful
10 second reverb in the building. The Italians in the congregation
sang the mass setting admirably, if not robustly; they appeared
to know the setting well.
Did anything distract you?
I guess the only "distraction" was that I kept looking up into
the dome with its huge size and painted frescos. My neck actually
became sore by the end of mass.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal and very prayerful. There was no sloppy,
slangy, novus ordo ad libbing. Mass was celebrated facing the
people without incense or bells. The celebrant was very calm
and looked engagingly at the congregation. The clergy were vested
in Gothic style chasubles. The staff priest (master of ceremonies)
donned a humeral veil to carry the additional reserved hosts
to the main altar from a side altar for the communion. The exchange
of peace was quiet and cordial.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 I gave him a 7 because Italian is not my first language
and it wouldn't be fair to judge him without understanding the
text 100 per cent.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The homily was on Matthew 21:33-44. By speaking this parable,
Jesus was foreshadowing his own passion and death (the landowner's
son was put to death by the vineyard workers) but also his glorious
resurrection (the stone which the builders rejected has become
Which part of the service was like being in
The pipe organ with the 10 second reverberation accompanying
the mass setting sung in Italian.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The many different postures adopted by the congregation. Some
people knelt, stood, sat, bowed, all at different times. I suspect
it was due to the many visitors present. I took my cue from
observing the locals, who I was sure were Florentines, seated
in the sanctuary near me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people paused to pray for a few moments, then either left the church or walked down the nave to visit this massive building. You could hang around for an hour, and probably no one would talk to you.
How would you describe the after-service
No coffee or tea was served. This is not a regular parish church.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 If I lived in Florence, I would certainly attend weekly
mass here. In spite of the sheer size of this cathedral, there
was an intimacy of worship by having everyone sit close together.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The luscious 10 second reverberation in the building.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.