Monday, July 24, 2006

New and Improved, Satisfaction Guaranteed

The Basilica Santa Casa in Loreto is blinding white in
the midday sun, as are the nuns who cross the piazza,
pushing wheelchairs or leading their charges by hand.
Pilgrims make their way up the steps into the dark
chamber of the church, seeking healing from the Black
Madonna, blessings from the ordained or freedom from
guilt through the act of confession.

In this place of worship,a nun drones to the masses
through the P.A. system, while the faithful mouth the
words, some with eyes closed, others distracted by the
tourists who are aimlessly milling around. Fake
candles have replaced real ones, and a handful of
change dropped in the slot marked “Automatico”
switches on the little flame-shaped bulbs, sending the
prayer to the heavens through the magic of
electricity. Stained glass windows and frescos that
are centuries-old rub elbows with the thoroughly
modern, and the juxtaposition is somewhat jarring.

A table of nuns lounge in the bar in the piazza,
where a young novitiate talks on her cell phone, and
an old sister smokes a cigarette down to the filter as
they wait for mass to begin.

Elise Castle--Humboldt University


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