Earlier this month, my husband Miyuki and I had the opportunity to travel to Europe again, and this time, to my delight, we stayed the whole time in Italy! Any of you who managed to make it through to the end of my last blog heard all about our adventures of renting a car in Germany last November. Thankfully, there were no mechanical or mean people issues like that this time!
There were Mother Nature issues though. We arrived in Rome to several inches of snow and were glad we had planned to drive straight to Florence because, though it was cold and windy, Florence did not have snow on the ground. Though we had visited Florence last November, we hadn't been able to go inside the giant Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, the Baptistery, the Campanile, or the Cathedral Museum. They were truly beautiful places and the ancient works of art were incredible. One of the amazing things I saw was Donatello's sculpture of "Penitent Magdalene," created over 560 years ago. The condition of this sculpture of Mary Magdalene, shown looking haggard, sorrowful, and old, wearing what seems to be rags, is made of white poplar wood and still looks achingly beautiful. I have to hand it to the Italians; they know how to create things that last!
We drove back to Rome the next evening, hoping that the snow was gone. A lot of it was, but there were still plenty of icy, snowy, slushy, and ultimately muddy places to walk. The next morning our first stop was the Roman Colosseum. We missed our guided tour in English that I had purchased before we left Ohio. When you're walking, trying to find the subway station a mile away and turn left out of the hotel parking lot instead of right, and the sidewalks are still icy and you're wearing tennis shoes instead of snow boots, and no one that you stop on the street speaks English, you tend to miss your appointed tour! I have to say that the Colosseum is incredible to see from the outside, less so from the inside. They did give us headphones for an audio tour in English as a consolation so that was nice, but we could never find the listening points to know what they were referring to when they talked, and there were just TOO MANY PEOPLE inside the structure.
The next stop was the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. We were really surprised just how large an area of ruins this was. One of the most incredible things I saw was the Arch of Titus. It is a huge arch erected in 81 AD to commemorate the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. There are two bas-relief sculptures lining the passageway through this arch. On one side it depicts the triumphant Titus riding in a four-horsed chariot and being crowned with a laurel wreath by Victoria, the goddess of victory. On the other side, a triumphant processional with the spoils of victory from the Temple of Jerusalem is depicted. You can still see the Menorah, the Table of Shewbread, silver trumpets, and Jewish prisoners being marched into Rome. The fact that Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple to His disciples just forty years prior and then it happened and was actually depicted on this enormous arch eleven years after the defeat, is amazing to me. There were so many ruins to look at there, and I'm so glad I was "nudged" to take a closer look at this one that has so much religious significance.
The next day was an even more incredible experience. Miyuki and I spent all day at the Vatican! We started out at St. Peter's Basilica and the first thing I saw when we stepped inside was Michelangelo's Pieta. The love and sorrow on Mary's face as she holds her son's body is exquisite. I think I was shaking at the time because I couldn't believe I was actually in that place seeing this thing that I never thought I'd have the chance to witness. I cannot describe just how huge St. Peter's is and how much art and artifacts are inside. And when you look up and see Michelangelo's dome, it literally takes your breath away. And to your right is a statue of St. Peter, whose tomb is just below you, holding the keys to the kingdom of God. The high altar area was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen.
We thankfully made it to our English guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, because otherwise I could have wandered for days trying to see everything! The two hour tour covered the highlights, of which I was most anxious to see the Raphael Rooms. The "School of Athens" was every bit as impressive as I thought it would be. The guide informed us about the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of the tour because there is supposed to be no talking in there, and no photography. Entering that place was awe-inspiring and your eyes immediately go to the center of Michelangelo's ceiling and see God reaching out His hand to Adam's hand, ready to give life to Adam. The intricacy and color of the paintings on the ceiling and walls is beyond my descriptive abilities. And then you turn around and see Michelangelo's "The Last Judgement" in all its glory on the altar wall! Thankfully, Miyuki and I both had an audio tour of the Chapel downloaded on our phones that we listened to through our earbuds, because the things the tour guide had told us earlier were hard to remember once you get in there and see it for yourself.
It was a memorable trip, and we even got to travel south to Naples and spend two nights with CS and Denise White and their two kids Elena and Ian, who attended church at Mason UMC for a couple of years. It was truly wonderful to see them again and Denise made a fun tour guide!
I can't really describe the feelings I had during this trip. The awesomeness of actually seeing so many sites and artifacts that are important to Christianity was overwhelming at times. But I CAN tell you how happy I was to get back home. Our sanctuaries and chapel are just as special and beautiful to me as any I saw in Italy. We are fortunate to have such spirit-filled places to worship together, and I am glad to call them HOME.
Lynn Kato, Director of Connections