Tuscany in early June is like a birthday party where far more guests have turned up than were actually invited.

In the big cities like Florence, Pisa, or Siena, it’s still somehow bearable—after all, there’s always a side-street or a little alley to run and hide in. Things can get brutal, though, in the little villages out in the country. Those narrow lanes that look so idyllic when they’re deserted turn into seething bottlenecks as soon the tour coach occupants get dumped into them. Everything jams up, people slam into and trip over one another, and at some point you find yourself trapped between the American couple with the screaming baby and the gaggle of German pensioners complaining loudly about price of the aqua minerale that certain enterprising locals are selling to the tourists as they queue. That’s how things looked last summer in the small town of San Gimignagno, which is sometimes referred to as “Tuscany’s Manhattan” because of its great number of mediaeval towers. When you enter this town, you come upon a small church. Its interior doesn’t feature any particularly valuable frescoes or paintings, but it is picturesque—and it’s the priest’s pride and joy. This priest stood at the entrance and greeted the chaotic swarm of visitors pouring into God’s house, and he was at first quite friendly.

But by and by, the noise got to be too much for him. Eventually getting desperate, he sought out the tour guide and asked him to make his charges quiet down. The tour guide did his best, but to no avail. The priest then resorted to more drastic means. He turned on a microphone and shouted “Silenzio!” into it several times. Hardly anyone took note, and some of the visitors who did actually thought it was a joke. By this point, the priest had truly had enough. He went to the organ, sat down, and began playing Bach. The music roared and reverberated throughout the little church, with the notes virtually falling over each other. Everybody fell quiet from one second to the next. And it was thus that sacred music finally succeeded in providing that so desperately yearned-for sacred silence.

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