Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
The women all had kerchiefs tied under the chin. The men, shod in knee-boots, or in raw-hide moccasins cross-gartered halfway up their shanks, had wide felt hats in their hands, or cones of fleece. Over the shoulders of a couple of shepherds were flung heavy white capes of stiff homespun frieze. In spite of the heat and the crush, one of them was wrapped in a cloak of matted and uncured sheepskin, shaggy-side out, that reached down to the flagstones. Things had become much wilder in the last hundred miles. The faces had a knobbly, untamed look: they were peasants and countrymen to the backbone.
The candles, spiked on a triangular grid, lit up these rustic masks and populated the nave behind them with a crowd of shadows. At a pause in the plainsong one of the tapers was put out. I realized, all at once, that it was Maundy Thursday. Tenebrae were being sung, and very well. The verses of the penitential psalms were answering each other across the choir and the slow recapitulations and rephrasings of the responsories were unfolding the story of the Betrayal. So compelling was the atmosphere that the grim events might have been taking place that night. The sung words crept step by step through the phases of the drama. Every so often, another candle was lifted from its pricket on the triangle and blown out. It was pitch dark out of doors and with the extinction of each flame the interior shadows came closer. It heightened the chiaroscuro of these rough country faces and stressed the rapt gleam in innumerable eyes; and the church, as it grew hotter, was filled by the smell of melting wax and sheepskin and curds and sweat and massed breath. There was a ghost of old incense in the background and a reek of singeing as the wicks, snuffed one after the other, expired in ascending skeins of smoke. “Seniores populi consilium fecerunt,” the voices sang, “ut Jesum dolo tenerent et occiderent”; and a vision sprang up of evil and leering elders whispering in a corner through toothless gums and with beards wagging as they plotted treachery and murder. “Cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem . . .” Something in the half-lit faces and the flickering eyes gave a sinister immediacy to the words. They conjured up hot dark shadows under a town wall and the hoarse shouts of a lynch-mob; there was a flicker of lanterns, oafish stumbling in the steep olive groves and wild and wheeling shadows of torches through tree trunks: a scuffle, words, blows, a flash, lights dropped and trampled, a garment snatched, someone running off under the branches. For a moment, we— the congregation— became the roughs with the blades and the cudgels. Fast and ugly deeds were following each other in the ambiguity of the timbered slope. It was a split-second intimation! By the time the last of the candles was borne away, it was so dark that hardly a feature could be singled out. The feeling of shifted rôles had evaporated; and we poured out into the dust. Lights began to kindle in the windows of the village and a hint of moonrise shone at the other end of the plain.
--Patrick Leigh Fermor, from A Time of Gifts