Outlook Issue 19 Spring 2015
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Lost, in the Sistine Chapel
Lost, in the Sistine Chapel     Finally  we  arrived  at  the  Sistine   Chapel.  I  felt  a  sharp  stab  of   disappointment.  It  was  one  mass  of  people,  solidly  packed,  and  the  noise  was   deafening,  with  innumerable  guides  trying  to  make  themselves  heard  above  the   general  chatter  and  laughter.  ‘Silenzio!’  the  Vatican  officials  would  call  out   inadequately  from  time  to  time,  ‘Silenzio!’  but  no-­‐one  listened.  The  whole  vast  space   of  the  chapel  was  so  incredibly  crowded  –  like  rush-­‐hour  on  the  London  Tube,  but   far,  far  worse!       It  had  been  a  strenuous   three-­‐hour   tour  of   the  Vatican,   that   first  day  of  my  Roman   holiday.  By  now  my  feet  were  aching  and  my  head  was  awhirl  with  all  that  I  had  seen.   I  felt  unable  to  absorb  any  more,  let  alone  appreciate  the  main  reason  for  our  visit  –   Michelangelo’s  painted  ceiling.  Spotting  a   ledge  along  one  side  of   the  chapel,   I  sank   down   with   relief.   I   could   still   hear   our   guide   Fabrizio,   commenting   on   the   chapel   through  his  little  radio,  though  it  was  difficult  to  concentrate  against  the  uproar,  even   with  my  earphones  …       And  then  I  looked  up.  With  an  almost  electric  rush  of  recognition,  my  gaze  rested  full   on   the   ceiling’s   central   panel,   the   exquisite   depiction  of  God   reaching  out   to  Adam   with   the   first   touch   of   life.   It  was   an   image   so  well-­‐known,   but   now   in   real   life   so   thrilling,   so   immediate,   and   quite   sublime.   Somehow   it   had   a   presence   that   rose   above  all  the  clamour  with  a  certain  stillness  and  peace.  ‘The  same  yesterday,  today,   and   forever’,   I   thought,   no   longer   aware   of   the   upheaval   around   me   …   I   was   completely  swept  away.     Lost  in  the  crowd   It  was  some  time  before  I  realised  that  Fabrizio’s  voice  had  faded  away  completely.  I   stood   up   to   look   for   him,   but   he   had   vanished   into   the   crowd  with   the   rest   of  my   party.  I  squeezed  my  way  slowly  through  the  crush  of  people,  hoping  for  a  glimpse  of   someone  familiar.  Now  and  then,  I  would  pick  up  a  few  of  Fabrizio’s  words,  but  never   enough  to  locate  him.  At  one  point,  I  heard  him  counting,  and  then,  ‘We  are  missing   the  tall  lady’,  he  said.  ‘Oh  dear’,  I  thought,  ‘that’s  me!’     Then  a  single  word  crackled  through  the  radio  and  gave  me  hope:  ‘Chimney’,  I  heard   him  say,  and  I  knew  it  must  be  the  special  chimney  whose  white  smoke  heralds  a   newly-­‐elected  Pope.  I  edged  my  way  over  to  one  of  the  Vatican  officials:  ‘Dové,   chimney,  per  favore?’  I  enquired,  in  my  somewhat  limited  Italian.  He  pointed  across   the  crowds  to  the  far  side  of  the  chapel,  where,  beside  the  famous  chimney,  stood   Fabrizio,  grinning  and  waving  me  over.  I  was  enormously  relieved.  ‘We  lost  you’,  he   said,  ‘Couldn’t  you  hear  me?’  ‘No’,  I  said,  ‘my  radio  cut  out’.  But  it  was  not  the  full   story:  I  had  been  caught  up  into  something  extraordinary,  awe-­‐inspiring  –  lost,  in  the   Sistine  Chapel,  in  a  completely  different  sense.                               MH