OEastern civilization is magnificent, our Judeo-Christian heritage is precious, and God-inspired human achievement is truly wonderful.
Such are the overall impressions of my two weeks in Italy, my very first visit to this civilizational nursery of the Western world. An American may be well educated, may have seen the pictures, read the books and watched the videos, but is not yet close to appreciating the scope, the scale, the grandeur, the beauty of what humanity has realized in the flourishing of pre-industrial Western culture.
Yes, for example, one naturally expects Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica to be mega-impressive. Yet this traveler had at least no idea, not even close, of the number, beauty and inspiration of the breathtaking churches, basilicas and cathedrals of the Italian peninsula. All built, mind you, without motorized equipment, almost all before and therefore without the benefit of Newton’s explanation of gravity or the technical uses of Leibniz’s calculus.
The vastness of the space inside and the magnificence of the columns supporting the Duomo in Milan, for example, literally made me catch my breath. The multiple domes of San Marco in Venice made me dizzy to see from below.
The paneling of the chapel of Bologna Cathedral looked like a large Renaissance painting. And the frescoes, some by Giotto, in the two basilicas (one above the other!) of Saint Francis in Assisi are treasures to behold.
The multitude of architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Byzantine, Palladian – sometimes united in a single building, astonishes at first sight rather than in a simple documentary. How does the human imagination develop and vary so greatly?
And almost to the last piece of it was created, produced, built, painted, sculpted or sculpted in profound homage to our God, either directly or in honor of the saints who dedicated their lives to him. Always pray that modern man will not lose this feeling of gratitude to our Creator.
As for the individual works of art scattered throughout the peninsula, the impression on this typical American sportsman, more familiar with Michael Jordan than Michelangelo, was that so much of it was so good that I was wondering what could do, pick an example, Mr. Buonarroti’s original Pieta stands out. Without artistic training, it is difficult to identify the elements that make the specificity of a work.
Yet there — see! — without massive crowds to see it, not preserved behind glass in a museum but easily accessible in a side chapel of Rome’s minor (!) basilica of St. Peter in Chains, is one of the most famous sculptures in the world, Michelangelo’s Moses. Its effect is electrifying. It’s a powerfully framed, perfectly proportioned Moses, with a stern but handsome face, both relaxed and equipped for kinetic action. It is truly believed that he could galvanize an entire people to escape, endure and eventually establish a place of faith, culture and civilization that still stands 3,400 years later as a recurring focal point of history. world history and modern geopolitics.
And where there is art history, there is, of course, ancient history. Here in Rome is the place, 100% confirmed by archeology and written records, where Julius Caesar was assassinated. There, in Milan, is the immersive baptismal font, again confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, where St. Ambrose officially made St. Augustine a Christian. And much more.
We in the New World have no such ancient treasures of stone, paint and marble. But we are honored to be the heirs of this majestic western civilization. And by God, we should cherish it.