In an instant, what started as a simple walking tour of Cefalu, Sicily on my recent vacation turned into a profoundly moving experience.
Let me explain.
Cefalu is a city in the province of Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily. Its narrow streets house numerous churches, a fisherman’s quarter, small shops and a long beach covered with fine sand. The town’s medieval appearance is especially noticeable in its Norman cathedral, built by Roger II in the 12th century.
When I entered the huge wooden doors of the Cathedral, I was met with dim gray flooring and dark, misshapen wooden pews. As my eyes adjusted to the interior, I noticed white flower arrangements on the end of each pew and thin white ribbon tied across the end of the aisle, preventing anyone from walking directly up the center.
It looked like there would be a wedding sometime today.
But for now, there were perhaps a hundred tourists milling around inside, snapping pictures. When I looked toward the far end of the cathedral, suddenly each section was lit up one by one, until I could see nothing but beautiful golds and blues and greens and reds along the walls and upon the ceiling. Tens of thousands of tesserae illuminated the church like priceless jewels with a breathtaking result.
It was magical.
Mosaics dripped from the walls: saints and prophets reposed on the choir walls, Seraphim and Cherubs decorated the vault, while the majestic figure of Christ Pantocrator loomed high in the apse, along with the Virgin Mary, Archangels and apostles.
Suddenly I heard voices start to sing a few stanzas, which then stopped. Near the altar stood 4 members of what must be the choir, readying themselves for the wedding that would soon take place. With some rustling of sheet music and cleared throats, they began to sing again.
I stopped walking, the opening chords of one of my favorite hymns – Ave Maria – resonated in my heart. Their voices echoed off the cathedral walls, then soared to the ceiling and back around, enveloping me. Their voices lifted me until I felt goosebumps (“God-bumps”).
The sound – the feeling – the place – were all so profoundly sacred that the tears flowed as I leaned against the marble wall.
At that moment, in a small town of winding cobblestone streets and a Norman cathedral built with love and care by craftsmen long since departed, there was nothing else but angels singing Ave Maria.
Just then, something caught my attention and I looked toward the massive door that was open to the square outside. The sky darkened and the trees stirred in what had been still, humid air. Tourists scurried inside to escape the abrupt change in weather, their scarves whipped around their faces from the sudden gusts. As the wind pressed through the church, I knew the Holy Spirit had just sanctified all those present.
Mysterious, unseen, refreshing. Gale force outside, a gentle whisper upon my cheek inside.
A blessing received upon on all those who gathered here on this day.
The tourists in their shorts and baseball caps, seated in the far rear of the church. The choir members in their black robes, arranged to one side of the altar. The wedding guests in all of their finery, anxiously awaiting the start of the ceremony. The priest at the altar, the groom at the head of the aisle, and the bride standing quietly next to her father, waiting for her new life to begin.
All were blessed.
The bride’s veil stirred in the now-gentle breeze as she worked to tear the ribbon blocking the aisle, a tradition unknown to some of us, but obviously important to her. I stood in the shadows, on holy ground, watching as the bride, with a triumphant smile, tore apart the ribbon to a crescendo of clapping and shouts of joy from the self-appointed tourist guests.
At last, she made her way up the aisle. Toward the Christ Pantocrator, her friends and family, and her love. Toward her future.
May the bride and groom who were joined together on that day know only a life together filled with happiness. And love.
For the greatest of these is love.
My thanks for allowing me the privilege of baring witness to Your Spirit.
And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 ~