Saint-Devote is a very special day for Monaco. The Prince’s Carabinieri (Guards) march to the small dock on Port Hercule, close to the Monaco Yacht Club. Eager residents join us on the dock, excited and expectant to see the small boat arrive with the relics of Saint Devota. You feel there like an extended family. Monaco is unique in its ability to preserve friendliness and intimacy – while at the same time you notice the security is efficient; and it would be fair to say, superb. This is a superb spot to be as the symbolic little boat with its light white sails arrives here at this special docking place, historically called the Valley of the Gaumates.
There is a special procession with Abbot J. C. Genson, Priest of the Saint Devota Parish, all part of a tradition dating back hundreds of years; it convenes with a blessing of the sea and release of a dove. The formation of the procession and its initial march is timed to arrive beautifully in synchrony with the docking of the symbolic boat. It halts to allow for the presentation and blessing of the relics of Saint Devota by Abbot Genson.
There is a commotion as the Prince’s Carabinieri go through their firing drill. And it is indeed a performance as the procession march halts for a few minutes receiving the relics from the boat – the Abbot and Archbishop in their gilded robes and mitres leading it, then followed by their acolytes carrying large banners, one banner after another: the Movement of Young Catholics of Saint Devota; Penitents of the Venerable Brotherhood of Mercy, “La Palladienne” Folk Society and Mandolinist, Penitents of the Brotherhood of “Santa Divota de Lucciana”; a delegation from the Municipal Council of Lucciana; Guides and Scouts of Monaco.
There is an orchestrated swirling of banners, a moving piece of art with the gilded finery of the Abbot and Archbishop, the priests in their robes, and the uniformed band members, also smart with their shining instruments – all this makes it the “second Act” of this theatre of which we are a part.
So we and the gathered throng join the end of the procession and walk from the dock toward the Church of Saint-Devote. Friendly, animated, more joyful than solemn, greeting each other and chatting as we walk and arrive at the forecourt of Saint-Devote. At first some drizzle, then interspersed with light rain; it does not dampen our spirits as the procession leads into the Church where the Prince and congregation are gathering.
We throng outside on the forecourt – so many want to be part of this special event that it would be impossible to accommodate everyone in the Church. It feels just as special on the forecourt as in the Church – a large screen relays all the scenes from inside the Church as the service gets underway. In fact, as part of the multitude outside we have a little more latitude to keep greeting each other, a special blend of religious ceremony and formality inside the Church together with a respectful and animated crowd outside playing their part in unique community theatre.
We follow the service with our programs: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II and the Royal Family and presided over by His Excellency Monsignor Bernard Barsi, Archbishop of Monaco; more addresses, sermons, hymns – beautiful singing, male voices, female voices, sometimes almost operatic, sometimes simple and melodic, again the experience is more joyful than solemn, though it is also a solemn occasion. Everything in the Church is fully in view on the big screen above us.
The evening is warm even with the rain. A few umbrellas add a bit more colour to our gathering. And then the peak of spectacle, the release of a dove and an increase in the warmth as the little boat is set afire ceremoniously by the Royal Family honouring an historic tradition. A unique sight – we are transfixed. This is not a small fire, this is a blaze – spectacular, no less.
And then the Final Act as the Prince emerges from the Church with his escort and the crowd cheers him. Prince Albert responds with a friendly pause and look. For a moment we are all one Monegasque family – and all this with the fire still blazing and the rain falling on a happy throng – a special cocktail of effects, unique to Monaco.
We gradually disperse into the evening – light-hearted, to be greeted by musical fireworks from Quai Rainier III which extends the spectacle into the evening, religious festival and entertainment blending harmoniously. Monaco and its traditions at their very best.