A nice surprise in Pisa for me was to see the acoustical design of the Baptistery (founded 1152, finished 1363) at work in 2012.
The intricate designing details of pillars and small arches on the outside of the Baptistery do not reflect the implications of the inside – simple and sacred both in decoration and atmosphere. One is free to walk around this gigantic round stone structure to feel awesome chill down the spines. (Beautiful humongous stones can give you that much!)
All of a sudden, the ushers closed the door and asked everybody to be silent – in Italian. I didn’t know what was going on and thought, “Gosh, this is my first time in Italy, don’t make this to have anything to do with terrorism!” Luckily it was not anything like that :-). When silence prevailed, the lady stepped up and stood right by the octagonal baptismal font and started to sing a simple tune of a few notes at medium register. As soon as her notes hit the stones, the air was immediately filled with the most beautiful sounds my ears have ever been exposed to. The sounding was so warm and pleasant, echoing just enough to be holy, and mesmerizing to the point of haunting. The singer made sure the resonance of each note be kept even for a second or two so that together all the notes engulfed the air in echoes of awestruck sounds for a couple of minutes. During this short moment, I seemed to be sucked into this sound wave feeling my soul go through a deep cleansing experience so as to be lifted in midair. It was very disappointing that it stopped so soon. Because sissy macaroni! What a way to arouse awe and wonder! I am not religious in any way, and I felt as if I could kneel down and pray right then.
The Baptistery was inarguably designed to serve God. Anyone speaking from that very spot by the font will come out sounding like the voice from God. (But maybe one cannot speak so fast for the echoing could make everything sound very confusing.) Imagine the peasants of the fourteenth century in this sacred environment! (I cannot imagine.) The magnificent design of the Baptistery speaks volumes to not only the incredible talents of the master builders of the past but also the passion and perseverance of human beings in their endeavors to manipulate materials for their own needs. Hmm…hats off to them.