Thursday, March 20, 2008

down the street from Santa Maria del Carmine

I have just come out of the Brancacci Chapel in the church of this post's title. Frescoes are an incredible artform when you think about it: painting in wet plaster. Sadly, most frescoes from the renaissance are in pretty bad condition because of water damage. But Masaccio's work in the Brancacci has survived extremely well. This colorful chapel also has work by Filippino Lippi and Masolino, but the theme of all the work is Peter: from the tribute money, healing with his shadow, baptising, in prison, resurrecting Tabitha, disputing with Simon Magus, to his crucifixion. It is such a small area with so much popularity that you are only allowed 15 minutes for your 4 euros, but we accidentally overstayed.

This afternoon I had also visited Santo Spirito (the Basicila on the other side of our apartment) where I had the privilege of contemplating a crucifix by Michelangelo all alone. This isn't one of his highly publicized works. Seeing all these art works in the holy week is focusing. Last night at a concert in the church of Santa Croce I was blessed by voices soaring into the dark dome singing the lamentation of Jeremiah in Latin. I'll be honest, I don't understand Latin. But it was all written out with an Italian translation. Between the two languages, I believe I got most of it. What a treat to listen to three medieval instruments (you wouldn't know what they looked like even if I told you their names, but one was very like a harpsichord and another like a cello, but one looked like a lute with a neck about six feet long)and the seven women who sang were gifted musicians. As they processed in, each took a candle and lit a couple candles in a tree-shaped candelabra. Then when they started singing through the Hebrew alphabet, each time a letter was sung, one women came and blew out a candle. Interesting way to visualize the progression. If it hadn't been so chilly, I might have thought it heavenly--but if you know me, I don't do cold well.

Yesterday was a fun trip to Pisa. However, those who tell you that it is a tourist trap are not far wrong. The famous tower is impressive and does look like it is indeed falling. What they don't tell you is that it is the bell tower of an incredible cathedral and baptistry, both of which are worth seeing. Seeing, that is, if you can avoid being bombarded by vendors on all sides who want to sell you belts, purses, watches, little toy soldiers who crawl on their stomachs or cowboys on broncos that really buck. Most of the souvenirs seemed to have nothing to do with Pisa or the spiritual and historical heritage of the place. They serve a good espresso, though.

God is teaching me so much about Himself and His sacrifice. Coming here during Lent and the Holy Week has been more of a reminder than I have experienced in many years. Evidence of devout persons and holy lives is all around us. But it can easily be diminished by the glitzy and noisy. Even as I try to concentrate on writing, "Hey Jude" is reverberating in this little room and the hilarious manager is singing along at the top of his voice in an Italian accent.

Firenze has been so rich and full that it would be easy to stuff ourselves on the intensity of the artistic heritage and let it become blasé. I hope we will be able to keep it in perspective, not become museumed-out, but see what He has for us. I especially need to be sensitive to the other 4 in the group--pray that I won't mother-hen them into oblivion!


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