December 1 in Siena is a holy day for the city. The Sienese celebrate their patron saint, Sant’Ansano with a march by members of the 17 contrade from the Piazza del Campo to the Duomo, where they then celebrate mass. For me, this was an experience like none other. It is filled with history and tradition. Each contrada, a district in the city, is represented by a drummer and two others who carry their contrada’s banner, waving them in fluid rhythmic synchronicity. Behind them are the captains of the contrade and roaring trumpeters. It’s medieval and very moving. The march begins at the Piazza del Campo, the main piazza in the city where the Palio is held, and ends at the Duomo, the medieval cathedral built in the 13th century. A refresher: every July 2 and August 16, the Palio, the traditional horse race, is held in the Piazza. Ten contrade are represented in each race. You can look for me in the middle of all of it on July 2, 2016.
What struck me the most about this evening was the way this city’s residents hold true to so many traditions. It was simple yet elegant. Everyone in the march knew its importance. There I was, attending mass in the Duomo, with Sienese, young and old, wearing the scarf of their contrada around their shoulders. A priest from every contrada participated, each wearing a red vestment with the symbol of his contrada on the back. Try to imagine if, at the start of major league baseball season, there was one big mass for your team and all the parish priests attended and wore jerseys and caps and insignia on their vestments. And everyone in the church prayed for the pennant. (Maybe this already happens in parts of Chicago. I don’t know.)
It was a magical evening. I felt lucky to participate in such a wonderful tradition. I am enamored of you Siena!