Mystery Worshipper: Rorate
Church: St Francis
Location: Split, Croatia
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 October 2015, 12:00pm
The present church was built in the thirteenth century by Franciscans on the site of an earlier fifth century church dedicated to St Felix. A cloister was added in the fourteenth century and there have been many remodellings over the years. There is a stunning painted cross from the fifteenth century and tombs of some of the town notables. The church library contains a lectionary dating from the fifteenth century, the first book ever printed in Croatian using the Latin alphabet.
St Francis himself, en route to Syria in 1212, was blown off course by a storm that left him shipwrecked on the Dalmatian coast. Today the monastery appears to house a community of nuns who were in evidence. They weren't at mass but I presume they went earlier in the day. The church and cloister attract many tourists. There is a museum within the complex but this wasn't open out of season.
Split, on the Dalmatian coast, is Croatia's second largest city and a popular tourist destination. The Roman emperor Diocletian built his palace here in 305, intending it to be his retirement home. Today many restaurants and shops, and some homes, can be found within the palace walls. The church overlooks the port of Split, just set back from the sea. There is a very picturesque fisherman's port just to the south of the church. The clock in the tower seems to be the one that the town is run by.
One elderly celebrant. No others were present to help, but a woman did light the candles and take up the collection.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
Bulging. The main nave could seat about 100, a transept another 50, the choir behind the altar 20, and there were still people standing at the back and down the sides. I couldn't see a gap in the pews either. I don't usually feel old when I attend church, but I was in the minority of those aged 45 and older. I would say 90 per cent were under the age of 40.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one was at the door or in evidence. There were no books or handouts to collect; it was a case of just squeezing into a pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were beautifully polished, as were the rigid wooden kneelers attached to the pew in from. I just imagined the nuns polishing them. The pews were comfortable enough, but oh boy, were the kneelers hard and uncomfortable!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, oh so quiet. The church was full. There were loads of families with young children, but yet there was hardly a sound.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The customary Sign of the Cross.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everybody knew the liturgy off by heart or pretended to.
What musical instruments were played?
None. Sadly this was just a said mass, but that may be the reason so many people attended.
Did anything distract you?
One gentleman sitting in front of me had a huge pimple on the end of his nose. However hard I tried to ignore it, it just seemed to come into view. The woman taking the collection should have had some help. She started at the offertory but was still doing the rounds well into the Agnus Dei.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A typical said mass. Although it was the feast of St Luke, he wasn't commemorated at this mass. The vestments were green, and as far as I could tell there was no mention of Luke's name. I am not a great one for kneeling as I am so tall, but everybody (and I mean everybody) knelt for the words of institution. But everyone was back up on their feet as soon as the chalice had been set back down on the altar.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Not understanding Croatian, it was impossible for me to know what was being said. But the priest preached enthusiastically without notes, waving his hands around and touching his forehead as if he had just had an idea. Everyone was very attentive throughout, although a few children did start to fidget, as did a few adults.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Not a clue.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were two fathers with their young daughters in the pew in front of me. When it came to the gospel, both fathers crossed their foreheads, lips and chests and then did the same to their daughters. The girls then repeated the Sign of the Cross on themselves and on their fathers. It was such a beautiful thing to watch.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The hardest thing is not being able to take communion. Being an Anglican, I could easily follow the service and felt good to be taking part in it, but I felt so alone as the others went forward to receive. Reconciliation and full communion between our churches may not happen in my lifetime, but I prayed that one day it might be.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
"The mass is ended ... " and they were off. No hanging around at this service! I did spend some time admiring the various appointments around the church but wasn't approached.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I am not Roman Catholic, but in the absence of an Anglican church I would return here for its prayerful atmosphere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. Seeing so many young people worshipping together was wonderful.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How the fathers helped their young daughters cross themselves at the gospel.