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The Sweet Sounds of the Unexpected

On our last night in Rome, my husband and I were waiting for the restaurant to open where we had planned to have dinner. We were in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rome, Trastevere, where the streets are narrow alleyways of weathered cobblestone, and an ancient church awaits around every bend. This being the case, there was, of course, a church right next door to the restaurant. Since we had about a half hour to waste, we decided to peek inside, even if it was our twentieth church that day (it is Rome, after all).

The Sweet Sounds of the UnexpectedThe church is called Santa Cecilia, and the interior was cool and quiet, a nice relief from the busy Roman evening. My husband and I sat down, happy to rest our legs. We were the only two visitors in there, other than a handful of nuns. As the minutes passed, we noticed more and more nuns gathering at the back of the church. We looked at one another, nervous that perhaps we had unwittingly crashed some private service.

Just then, the nuns in the back of the church began to form two lines. Once more we looked at each other. My husband whispered, “I think we better go.”

And then, the two columns of nuns began processing up the center aisle toward the front altar. Now, we couldn’t get up. We watched the procession, intrigued. When the sisters made their way to the altar, the columns split and they took their position in a semi circle. That was about the time we noticed that another sister had taken her place at the ancient organ, and the pipes began to surge with music. The nuns at the altar began to sing, and the entire church was filled with their soft voices, joined together in a latin chorus.

Dave and I couldn’t help but laugh, so delighted were we to have stumbled across such a beautiful and unexpected concert.

Curious as to what we were witnessing, I sought out a church bulletin and saw that the nuns sing their evening vespers every night at 7pm. The public is encouraged to attend, even though my husband and I had found ourselves in an empty church. Crowds or no crowds, the sisters will be there, singing their evening vespers. It really was one of the highlights of the trip. The sound of their voices in that setting bordered on the transcendental. And it taught me a thing or two about detours – and how those unexpected stops can lead you to an experience that you can’t imagine having missed.

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Allison Pataki
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