Italian traditions are occasionally quirky. Especially when traditional religious holidays merge with the civic representations of those holidays. Like Pentecost. And occasionally, these traditions and rituals don’t always go quite right. Like today’s Pentecost.
In honor of Pentecost, all of the churches from all over the town had a single service in the Duomo today. I’m sure there are all kinds things that went on in the service that had significance that I didn’t notice. But the real excitement began after mass.
During the end of this past week, the town strung up a zipline stretching from the old cathedral building to a pagoda that had been set up in front of the current Duomo. As the week progressed, we noticed more and more elaborate decorations going up. First there were garlands hung around the pagoda. Then yesterday (or the day before?) there was a wooden cloud that surrounded the start of the zipline. All of this was in preparation for this Sunday at noon when they would release the “Holy Spirit” over the crowd gathered in front of the Duomo and watch it sailing down to the pagoda. The “Holy Spirit,” of course, took the form of a dove stuffed inside a plastic tube, which was surrounded by a wreath in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit to the apostles.
After mass, we all trooped outside and stood in the middle of the piazza under the zipline. With 15 minutes till noon, we weren’t sure what to watch for to make sure we didn’t miss the dove. As we waited, people dressed up in Renaissance-looking costumes started emerging all around the piazza. I’m pretty sure the mayor was up in some window looking down on the crowd. There were pages standing on either side of the pagoda, and when we looked up, we could see the tiny red speck of what we figured was the dove-carrier at the top of the zipline. We found out later the red was part of the wreath. Trumpeters (also dressed in costume) signaled that the event was about to begin, and suddenly some firecrackers went off and we saw the tiny red speck slowly growing larger as it moved down the zipline. As soon as the bird reached the pagoda, fire-crackers hanging from inside the pagoda started going off. It sounded like Chinese New Year. To our surprise, we also looked up to see the bird no longer in the plastic tube, but instead fluttering around and traumatized before it flew away over the piazza. Turns out things don’t always go as planned here in religious festivals. Something had failed and the bird, instead of staying in the plastic tube say they could present to the most recently married couple in Orvieto, escaped. Suddenly no one really knew what to do. The workers climbed up and took the wreath down, the trumpeters lined up in two columns, and the pages displayed to the crowd an empty plastic canister surrounded by a wreath that was supposed to still have a dove inside. Whoops. I guess that means it’s impossible to cage the Holy Spirit. All of the tourists thought it was great. All of the Orvietani were confused.
If Italy has a form of PETA, then they would be somewhat satisfied over this turn of events.