A tale of 2 churches
We just returned from a week long trip through Italy’s Veneto (Verona, Padua, and Venice) It was colder up North, but sunny most days and truly magnificent. Venice was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a great experience, albeit a bit like a giant mall. Truly for me to enjoy something I can describe as a giant mall is saying something.
Verona was a wonderful picture of an old Roman city. There were many tourist sites, but the city was still operating as a normal city, it was not solely about tourism, like Venice. The vibe was peaceful and the sites were stunning. The big draw for Verona is the Shakespeare angle- which is really fascinating considering that the Bard never made it to Verona. He only had a picture in his imagination of what it might be like, and that picture seems like it was a conglomeration of Verona and what he thought Venice might be like.
As much as I enjoyed a city about Romeo and Juliet, a place that left a deeper impression on me was the fair city of Padua. Padua was part of our day traveling from Verona to Venice so we spent only a half day in the city of Padua and in that time we visited 2 memorable churches. The churches were vastly different in so many ways, but both about the same thing, proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
The first church required it a reservation and only 25 people were allowed to visit at a time, for only 15 short minutes, to keep any damage to the 700 year old art to a minimum. The church is an attempt to proclaim the good news in visual beauty and truth. The artist behind this magnificent attempt was the grandfather of the renaissance, Giotto. If you have never seen it, here are some of the frescoes Giotto painted.
The chapel was created by a son who’s father had been branded a sinner by the church for charging too much interest (Usury). Not just the church though, this man is even mentioned as an inhabitant of one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The son, in an attempt to atone for his father’s sins, attempts to proclaim the good news in the most beautiful way possible. This was finished in 1305 and since then has been proclaiming the truth in stunning fashion.
The top row begins about Mary’s Birth and ends with her betrothal to Joseph. The front wall then celebrates the angel’s announcement that Mary would have a child. The 2nd and 3rd row is then all about Jesus, from birth to death on the cross, resurrection, then Pentecost. The back wall is the most damaged and features the final judgement, with Hell looking a lot like Dante’s fearsome perspective (turns out Dante and Giotto were friends). The bottom wall then lists out virtues and vices.
The other church in Padua that we visited is the Basilica of Saint Anthony. This church was begun 7 years after the Saint died in 1238 and finished around 1310. While Anthony is famous now for many things, his claim to fame at that time was his ability to speak the good news. He was a powerful preacher and he had a passion for those who were lost. To this day he is the patron saint of lost things, as well many other things. The famous relic in the church is the tongue, vocal chords, and jaw bone of the Saint. The story is that when his remains were dug up to move into the church, while the body had decayed, the tongue was still there good as gold. The church really is something to see,
Over 700 years later, both of these legacies, one to a saint, and one to a known sinner, are still proclaiming the Truth they both rest upon. The art in each church is incredible, but I don’t think that is secret behind the staying power. These buildings both speak to the good news, one spoken, and one seen. 700 years from now, if humans are still around, I wonder what there will be from our culture that speaks to the Truth.