Thursday, June 12, 2014

Go to the mountain

It seemed appropriate today that we went high above Florence to hear the monks of San Miniato al Monte sing the vespers in Gregorian chant.

Earlier today I found out that Ja'nice, wife of my brother Mark, took her life. It is a sad time in which we are all examining our being.

Though I am not Catholic, I found real comfort at San Miniato al Monte. The basilica was built in 1018 on the site of an even older church that Charlemagne mentioned in 783. It was built to cradle the remains of Miniato (or Minias), an Armenian solder beheaded by the Romans as he proclaimed his faith. Legend has it that Miniato picked up his head from where he was decapitated near the Arno River, the climbed the hill to be buried.

Unlike most churches in Florence, San Miniato has no Renaissance art. Its frescos are by comparison crude, yet equally beautiful. Behind the altar is a brilliant Byzantine mosaic. The nave is lighted by windows of thin alabaster that flood the church with rose light each morning.

The Benedictine monks have lived a simple life at the basilica since 1018. Each evening, they gather in the candle-lit crypt before the San Miniato's reliquary. The sing their faith in Gregorian chants -- almost atonal calls and answers. Their voices rise and fall, but never make a melody.

It's haunting. And comforting. I thought a lot about Mark and Ja'nice as I listened. For more than 1,000 years, those chants have ended the evening at San Miniato al Monte. It is here that you appreciate the brevity of ourselves, yet the constancy of life.

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