San Francisco el Grande Basilica
“I speak English.”
The old man tells us that he was stationed in the Philippines and learned the language there, although we don’t understand him well enough to gather much more. The three of us wait in the cold for the doors to open. The old man says they should be opening soon and gestures to his watch. My friend and I have not quite adapted to the fluidity of Spanish time. Ten minutes after mass was scheduled to begin, we see the priest step out the front of the Basilica to open the gates.
The priest, not yet robed and still turning on the lights, walks the length of the church, and flame-shaped light bulbs illuminate at the ends of candelabras flanking each column, one-by-one. The wooden pews creak when we take seats toward the back. Every sound reverberates throughout the Goya and Zurbarán filled basilica, and we adopt a stillness out of reverence for the art and for God and for the old man unraveling his scarf toward the front. Someone puts on music and a female voice covering Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” crackles over the intercom.
A graying woman stands at an alcove to our right and prays while looking up at a marble sculpture of the crucifixion. She wears brown fur like the other women who are beginning to drag their stockinged feet down the aisle, spotting the pews with their rabbit and fox and chinchilla. The woman rubs her hand on Christ’s foot as if to sooth Him. She looks up at His face with both gratitude and longing before slowly leaning in to kiss His cold marble feet. Euro coins clink as they’re dropped into the slots of a prayer candle machine, and plastic candles light up with each clink in the name of someone loved. Clink. Clink. Continue reading