Buon Giorno! Jill posted that Italy had brought out her appreciation for art and for the art of writing. Magnifico! I find myself also in Italy – specifically Venice (Venezia) and its intellectual capitol, Padua. My wife slaves away during the day instructing psychologists and psychiatrists how to properly use the measure she invented. I roam the streets freely seeking inspiration.
And yes, Jill there is plenty of inspiration here. This is the Old Country, but more specifically the Old Country of the Old Country. The 15th century is recent times to Venice and Padua. Old to these folks is pre-1000.
This is a very religious part of the world (of course). But what in America is considered “religion” is “history” here. I had no idea that I would stumble so casually upon so many persons of religious history – and so personally moving to me.
My wife and I visited Saint Mark’s Square in Venice on a rainy morning – like many millions of others before us – and popped into St. Mark’s basilica to view the artwork and marvel at the mosaic floor tiles. We had to walk across elevated ramparts to avoid the flood waters spilling into this historic area because of global warming. It was 2 Euros to view the “Golden Alter”. That sounded like a come-on, but the alter was indeed 100% golden and carved in endless patterns of rococo artwork. The artwork was splendid.
But I did not realize the historical significance until we returned to our hotel room and read Rick Steves’ Guide. This golden alter was built over the tomb of Saint Mark, yes, Mark the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel according to Mark in the Holy Bible. He had been “martyred” in Alexandria, Egypt – drug behind a horse through the town until he was dead – then entombed for 700 years. Crusaders “rescued” his remains and spirited him off to Venice in a pork meat drum to be interred under the alter in what would be come St. Mark’s Basilica.
While we were on the short train ride west to Padua, in old Veneta – the Venetian city-state, I read up on other saints in the area. Aside from Rome – St. Peter under the alter in the Basilica, and St. Paul outside the old city walls where he was (mercifully) beheaded since he was a Roman citizen, Padua contained the most really-really old religious relics around. I looked forward to exploring this historic city.
Padua (Padova in Italiano – the “v” is silent), is most historic for intellectually thumbing its nose at Rome and the Vatican. When Marco Polo went off and “discovered” the Orient, Venice and Padua became the crossroads of the middle ages. While France and Britain were still wallowing in mud, Padua had established itself as the center of European learning. The Universite lists some of its more celebrated instructors as “Copernico”, “Gallileo”, “the Discoverer of the Pancreas”, and of course, ” Dr. Carol George – Visiting”.
You may think that there is a disconnect between the intellectual heritage of this city and its religious history. In fact, the Church was the keeper of intellectual discourse and discovery for many hundreds of years. Under the protection of the powerful Venetian Doges, Padua flourished as a center of independent thought.
It was here, in the 13th century, that St. Anthony, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, became renowned as a clergyman, orator, and preacher of the more noble pursuits of Christianity – care for the poor, redemption of the worthy, and hell for the abusers of power (both outside and within the Church). He died just outside Padua, and his basilica here remains one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Christendom. Many parts of his body (documented in a subsequent posting) are on display in his “Reliquary” behind the alter of this magnificent church.
But what fascinated me most about this town is that all knew of the influence of St. Anthony in the 13th century and his massive basilica and tomb, but no one knew that their city was the final resting place of another – much more important in my book – “saint” resting just a few hundred meters from St. Anthony.
Have you heard of Luke? Yes, THE Luke. The evangelist and doctor who wrote both the “Gospel according to Luke” and “Acts” of the Bible? Santo Luko’s remains rest in the Basilica di Santa Giustina. Well, most of his remains. His skull was decreed by a 15th century Holy Roman Emperor to be transported and displayed in Prague, and the Greek Orthodox Church insisted that he be returned to Thebes where he died (the patriarch of Padua shipped off a rib “closest to his heart” in 1991 to his tomb in Thebes).
As you know, I am not a particularly religious guy. But I must say that I was moved when I came face-to-coffin with one of the authors of the New Testament. Luke did not know Jesus in person, but followed disciple John around. When John languished in prison before his death, Luke became his transcriber, writing down all of John’s letters and remembrances of the times he spent with JC. Because he was a physician, Luke’s writing was informed, well-writtern, and fact-based (well, as fact-based as you could get in a time of miracles and prophets).
And nobody in this town knew that his remains are here! I am not a big fan of Dan Brown, but I do think a church conspiracy exists to conceal St. Luke’s final resting place. It’s like, “We are NOT going to ship any more ribs, skulls or other body parts away from here, so just go away and forget all about his tomb”.
I for one cannot forget my encounter with a doctor and evangelist dead for two thousand years. I have attached a dark photo of his tomb – it’s the best I could do in the light. You be the judge. Should we rejoice along with St. Luke or share his plea for quiet rest?
– David of Padua.