A Community Cathedral

“If you look like your passport photo, you’re too ill to travel.” ~Will Kommen

I think that this quote should be a consolation to all of us.  Mostly I just found it amusing, and it is totally unrelated to this blog post.

Yesterday the Duomo here in Orvieto hosted a free concert, conducted by Zubin Mehta.  My music friends will know that he’s a pretty well-renowned conductor in the music world.  And the concert, of course, was a pretty big deal.  The orchestra played…well, I’m not actually sure what the piece is called, since the program is all in Italian.  I’m pretty sure it’s something along the lines of “Messa da Requiem per Soli, Coro e Orchestra”…aka, Requiem Mass for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra?  That’s my rough only been learning Italian for a little while translation.

Considering the name of the conductor and the fact that the newspaper advertised it as one of the biggest events in Italy as we enter Holy Week, our program told us that the concert would likely be standing room only, so get there early if you even want to try and get a seat.  We did, and there were the cop-cars stationed outside of the Duomo and everything to keep everyone in line.  We walked in an found seats near the back, since the entire front half of the Duomo was reserved for VIPs.

Let’s just say that Orvieto really outdid themselves in fancying up the Duomo.  At 6 they started playing with the lights.  I’d never seen so much light inside a massive stone structure like that, where there’s only a limited number of windows and those have alabaster and stained glass.  But this was an intense amount of light, not only up front for the performers, but all around, in the alcoves with frescoes of the saints, in front of the pillars, lights were set up to change colors.  For one movement the floor and columns would be glowing red, the next everything would be a cold blue, and then green.  I’m sure that the architects building the cathedral would never have thought that their work would be lit up like that.

But the part that struck me most about the concert (besides the music, of course), was the way that the Duomo functions as a center for the community of Orvieto.  Tourists come through Orvieto and think of the Duomo as a tourist attraction, almost like a museum…hence the 3 euro cost to get in.  And to some extent it is, just for the sake of the art that it houses.  Which is also why I don’t like Sundays in Orvieto, where you walk up the Corso and most of the people are tourists.  But for the people of Orvieto, the Duomo is the farthest thing from a tourist attraction.  It’s where they worship.  It’s where they hold cultural events.  It defines them and draws them together in community.

I had trouble thinking of anything in the states that compares with the function of the Duomo–a building that holds a community together on so many different levels.  When there’s a concert, it’s usually held in an auditorium that is built for performances.  Worship takes place in an entirely separate building, typically.  Sports games are in stadiums (not that they hold sports games in the Duomo, but as an example of another large structure that holds lots of people).  There are just so many buildings that try to function as centers of community that sometimes it seems like they pull communities apart instead of bringing them together.  What would happen to community if there was a structure in an American town or small city that functioned in such a diverse way as the cathedrals here in Italy?


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