Name: Kate Mulhern
Location: Florence, Italy
Date: June 25, 1997
I assisted for a study abroad program every summer for six years through Seattle University where we took students to Florence, Italy. During one of our walkabouts around the city my first year as an assistant, we stopped in a little tiny little church that’s commonly referred to as Dante’s Church, the church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi. It was built in 1032, and legend says it’s where Dante first “met” his muse Beatrice. (aka victim, Dante really should have not decided it was OK to stalk teenagers like a creepy old man.) There is also a tomb for Beatrice inside the church where people used to leave love notes (not to beat a dead horse but stalking does not equal love), but no one knows if Beatrice is actually in that tomb.
The church is teeny tiny, very ancient, and very nondescript, just tucked down a little alleyway. Not a lot of tourists visit it or even know about it. We took our students there, walked in the door, and the church was pretty much empty. I think there were maybe two other people in there besides our group.
Immediately when I walked in, I had the strangest feeling. You know that feeling when you are like, meeting a friend at a party but your friend isn’t there yet, so you walk into this party packed with people you don’t know? And you kind of awkwardly walk through the crowd of curious, not necessarily hostile but not necessarily welcoming people? Then you grab a drink, stand there alone drinking it, which the people at the party allow you to do but are still kind of watching you, then you finally feel like, “OK cool, you’ve had your free beer. You can leave now”? That’s EXACTLY what the church felt like. I mean, minus the beer.
It didn’t feel welcoming but it didn’t feel UNwelcoming, and it felt absolutely PACKED with people, even though there were less than 25 people in the entire church. Like, packed enough that I felt like I couldn’t put my hands on my hips without bumping into someone. I kind of carefully crept around the church and after about 10-15 minutes, it was very clearly time to leave. Just that feeling of overstaying your welcome. I didn’t feel any mean GET OUT vibes, just like, “OK you saw it. You can go now.”
Out of the corner of my eye, every single one of my students independently turned and left all at the same time.
When we got outside, I didn’t say anything, but the kids were super quiet. The next summer, we had a new group of students and we went back to Santa Margherita dei Cerchi with them, too. Exact same feeling. Walked in, felt like Eras-Tour-level packed, felt like we needed to leave after 15 minutes. This time I asked the students if they felt anything weird in there. Every single one of them reported SOMEthing. Some told me they felt what I did: crowded room, not exactly welcoming but not mean either, then they suddenly had to leave. A few people reported pounding headaches when they walked in. And about three of the students said they burst into tears as soon as they walked through the door, and walked around the whole time with tears streaming down their faces.
I’ve been back many times since, and always have the same experience. Everyone I’ve ever taken there has reported something weird in there.