Sorry for taking so long to get this up! I actually wrote this a month ago but my inner perfectionist (which isn’t actually normally a thing, I’m not sure what happened) wouldn’t let me post it un-edited. So enjoy my, ahem, long-awaited (yes, you were waiting with baited-breath, I know you were) updated blog post about my Italy trip.
As a theology student, travelling with a fellow theology student, the overarching theme of the holiday was actually churches. Despite the fact that neither of us regularly attend church, we managed to make it to 13 over our trip (ie. 1 a day!) My twelve year old self, groaning at being dragged around churches on holiday, would be horrified. As no one really enjoys hearing about someone else’s awesome holiday (tee-hee) I thought I would instead share my top 5 churches of the trip. Because everyone would rather read about churches right?
5. St. Ambrose, Milan
Oh man, I was so excited to go this church. Mostly because of the history. St. Ambrose, the founder of this church, was one of the people who convinced St. Augustine to convert to Christianity. Christian theology would be profoundly different without his influence (eg. The Doctrine of Original Sin and ‘The Confessions’). Ambrose was also an influential orator, theologian and Bishop in his own right. I found the actual building a bit more mixed. Although Ambrose founded the church in the fourth century, all that remains is the floor plan and a few works of art from a similar period.
However the church has been majorly reworked in later centuries. There are many chapels containing relics on either side which are done in (I think) Baroque style in the 18th century. While their sheer size is impressive it is a style I’m not very fond of in general – so if anyone who has been and has more knowledge than me can enlighten me that would be wonderful! On the other hand the 11th Century portico and the simple structure of the main building is very appealing.
THEOLOGY INTERLUDE: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I also found the relics of St. Ambrose and two other saints intriguing. For me, the fascination with both martyrdom and physical sanctity is a very interesting part of the Christian dynamic. Peter Brown has suggested that the cult of the saint, which these skeletons are an early example of, started from a movement away from using angels as intercessory focal points. The Roman social structure of the patron/artist became part of Christianity; the saint became the endorser and patron of a person to God. It also became a symbol of power with rich families racing to get a body of a saint and keeping them in their tombs etc. The idea of relics and significance in saints bodies remained an essential part of mediaeval christinaity right up until the reformation period.
4. Duomo, Florence
I found the Duomo very architecturally interesting. The outside of the church is very ornate with beautiful mosaic patterns covering the outside rather than the traditional statues. You then walk into the church expecting it to be incredibly ornate and there is an almost communal exhale as people are shocked by how plain the inside is! Although it might not be the most photogenic interior, it creates quite a spiritual contrast. The interior of the baptistery is absolutely stunning however and I would highly recommend shelling out to visit it.
3.Santa Croce, Florence
This was also quite a plain church. The view of this church from the top of the bell tower at the duomo gorgeous. I found walking round and seeing the tombs of the famous folk really awesome. Michelangelo and Galileo are buried here amongst many others. Its quite ironic seening as they had a rather harried history with this church.
2. Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, Assisi
This was my absolute favourite church in terms of decoration. It has these beautiful blue ceilings with stars painted over them. My friend also managed to get beautiful pictures of the sky. In general I adored the little I saw of this region – we stayed in Perugia, which is a little student town and was just such a nice break from all the cities we were in.
At Assisi you again get the overwhelming sense of the churches as a place of pilgrimage. Ironically, my friend and I were going to go to several of the churches which are here in Assisi, but missed our stop as we were too busy talking about God and the universe.
1) San Clemente, Rome
This was both my most rushed and my favourite church. If anyone gets the chance to go to Rome I highly recommend going here purely for the history involved. Its really near the Colosseum (although believe me, it doesn’t feel like it when you are pushing a wheelchair). However, this is a church of many layers. The top layer is a fairly standard, albeit beautiful twelfth century church. However, you go downstairs and the fun really begins! One layer down and you are inside the fourth century basilica. There is still artwork on the wall, alters and a beautiful mosaic.
You then go down one more layer and you are inside the remains of a pagan temple. This was the point where we started getting chased by irate Italian women who wanted to close the church for lunch. Yep, churches (and many other things) close at lunch in Italy. We therefore hurried through down one more section which was the pavements from a 1st century house church in Rome. Absolutely amazing.
I highly recommend that you have an explore on San Clemente’s website , which is where I have taken these pictures from. Being able to explore the history of early Christians has really brought a tangible element to the modules that I’ve studied. I am so glad I was able to go to all really glad to have been round so many churches (although I admit we both got worn out and spent a day lounging in a park and going to an Aquarium).
Anyway, hopefully I have made you all jealous now (or bored maybe, but if you are don’t tell me!)
All images either link to their original source or were taken by my friend Thea.