From here we took the final 15 minute drive up to Atina. On the final approach to this special place it always seems the hairs stand up on the back of my neck in excitement and anticipation of the first glimpse of the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
This was to be Sarkis & Margaret’s first visit to the home town of his Italian mother and the first meeting with their Italian cousins. This particular Sunday there were celebrations for the Feast of Corpus Christi / Corpus Domini (held nine weeks after Easter).
The old town had been cordoned off to vehicles and as we strolled through the town’s elegant gateway we saw that final preparations were underway to adorn the winding cobbled streets with a colourful carpet of tinted wood shavings. This a real community event involving many hours of preparation, co-operation and hard work. Also, several special altars had been erected at strategic points along the route of the procession, and apartment dwellers along the way had draped colourful tapestries, beautiful lace trimmed linens and silk bedspreads from their windows and balconies which gently wafted in the breeze.
Suddenly the Town Band struck up, setting the scene with some doleful religious music, and the solemn procession began to make its way forward over the decorative carpet. At the centre was the local Parish Priest dressed in his ceremonial robes and wearing an embroidered wrap around his shoulders which he used to grasp the “monstrance” displaying the consecrated host, so as not to actually touch it with his hands. Four proud staff bearers supported a decorative canopy aloft, flanked by several dignitaries wearing black hats, white cloaks and white gloves and cassocked youths carrying a crucifix and lanterns. The procession slowly progressed around the town, stopping periodically at the erected altars to offer prayers and bless each quarter of the town. More and more townsfolk joined the procession along the way, and strangely now and then the band (as if they could not contain themselves) had to intersperse the solemn religious music with some jauntier traditional numbers !!!
It took several hours for the procession to circumnavigate the town so night had fallen by the time it had arrived in the piazza in front of the old baroque cathedral. Here more prayers were offered and then church bells began to joyfully ring out long and loud. It was a wonderful experience to witness this, to think that so many generations of my ancestors had heard the same bells ringing over the years.
Then it was back to cousin Anna Rita’s where Sarkis and Margaret were most warmly welcomed into the Italian family fold. We enjoyed a wonderful family meal and the cousins were able to meet up and chat via Paul and myself as interpreters. Looking at old family photos they remarked just how much Sarkis resembled their late father Michele. It was quite an overwhelming experience for Sarkis to at long last meet his Italian cousins and to walk around Atina treading in the footsteps of his ancestors ….. something he will not forget for some years to come.