Last year I took an early morning train from Bergamo to Varenna, a small village on Lake Como. It was Palm Sunday, and when I arrived at the train station there was no one in sight. I had thought about taking a taxi to the hotel, because when I had googled the route to the hotel it looked like an extremely narrow, curvy road to try to drag my suitcase down safely and I prefer not to get hit by cars on vacation. Just a preference of mine.
But with no other options I set out down the hill toward the main road, passing Piazzetta Stati Uniti d’America on my right and smiling
When I got to the main road (a narrow two lanes wide, wrapping around the side of the mountains) I could either go straight or to my left. Straight, I knew from Google Maps, led to the port, but on Google there didn’t seem to be an easy way over toward the main square, Piazza San Giorgio, where my hotel was located, so I took a deep breath and turned to my left, trying to hug the 2 ft curb that I was pretending was a sidewalk.
NOTE TO FUTURE TRAVELERS: Don’t do what I did! Go down to the port! There’s a lovely walkway from that piazza over to the lakeside area beneath Piazza San Giorgio that doesn’t show up on Google!
Every time a car passed by I stood still and hugged the side, till I came to a tunnel – which I sped through. It’s really not that long of a walk from the train station to Piazza San Giorgio, but with a large bag that stuck out into the road it wasn’t the most carefree, either.
Still, I saw no one.
As I approached the square I heard a man singing. It sounded like it was over a loud speaker. I lead my bag into the empty square and stopped. To my left was the church that gives the piazza its name, and to my right, walking toward the church, was a Palm Sunday procession.
My mom has told me stories of the processions they used to do when she went to Catholic school in Ohio, but I had actually never seen one. Lead by a deacon and alter boys (and girls) carrying the cross high, the priest was chanting into a wireless microphone – that was the voice I had heard. There must’ve been speakers somewhere in the piazza, whether set up just for this occasion or always there I’m still not sure. After the priest came a few more deacons carrying olive branches (or priests in training? eucharistic ministers? well, they weren’t ordinary members of the congregation, whoever they were). The congregation followed, some singing along with the priest and others reflective, hands folded in front of them as they headed toward the church.
Part of me wanted to cut in and join them, but with my suitcase in tow I’d make an awkward worshipper, so I simply stood watching as they passed by, walked the few steps up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and disappeared behind its doors.
Later in the week, after looking around a bit, I decided that they were probably coming from the Baptistry which is located on the opposite side of the piazza from the church and was renovated to its current state in 1151AD (yeah, that’s the renovation date! The first church on the site was built before 1000AD).
I went to a mass a few days later and they did a procession around the inside of the church, but I’m not so sure that really counts as my “first procession”. I’ll just have to go back!