By The Revd Katharine Rumens
I have learnt to call myself the locum chaplain. All Saints’ Milan, one of the 250 congregations across 30 countries of Diocese in Europe, needed to cover a vacancy. I was happy to help: at one stage I taught English in Modena and now I am retired, the idea of returning to Italy was very appealing.
All Saints’ is in The Brera part of the city, often described as ‘a chic quarter’. Chic in this case translates as a combination of designer and interior design shops; luckily there is a small supermarket round the corner where I can buy bread and milk — at designer prices, of course.
The chaplain’s flat and parish room up four flights of stairs are a later addition built on top of the church, which was opened and dedicated on All Saints’ Day in 1896 (consecration came much later in 1909). It was atmospheric, not least because the children’s choir rehearsal came through thin walls and through the floor, a weekly dose of Dashing White Sergeant and Strip the Willow when the highland dancing group met in the church below.
The diocese of Milan observes the Ambrosian Rite. This came as a bit of a surprise when I noticed mid-November the hangings in the churches were purple and not red; and heard the priest announcing at the beginning of Mass that it was the first Sunday of Advent. These six weeks are seen as an equivalent period of preparation to Lent.
When I lived in Modena, I was not aware of any great preparations for Christmas. Milan may always have been different; in this chic quarter the lights are truly up, and shops decorated. It is the Christmas Fair on Saturday, the major fundraiser of the year. Between non-onerous duties in church, I slip away to the Castello Sforzesco, built in the 15th century the Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Yesterday I spent time looking at early Christian tombs. The Lamb of God now appears little more than scratches yet is moving in its simplicity.
Deflated to learn that viewings for Leonardo’s Last Supper in Santa Maria Della Grazie were fully booked until well after my departure, I took up suggestion by members of the congregation that I wear my clerical collar and just turn up mid-week when it’s raining.
Nevermind the designer milk prices, thin walls and floors — there is much to appreciate as a locum chaplain in Milan.