lunedì, settembre 19, 2005


Today, horror of horrors, classes have begun. I'm quite sure that until now I didn't believe it possible that we were to waste hours in a classroom with this wealth of knowledge, of history and theology and everything else that man has set his mind to and God has given Man to plow with his intellect and imagination, within a few mere minutes of travel.

This morning’s class, however, in an appropriate fashion, rather than being held inside a classroom, was transported to the streets of Rome, to the Pantheon (which boasts the largest dome in the world, which, if you must know, is breathtaking), to some sort of collection of ruinous pagan temples named uncreatively after the first four letters of the alphabet, and to the prison where the apostles Peter and Paul were incarcerated and awaited their eventual executions.

The pagan ruins made little impression on me. Such things are scattered everywhere
around this city, and furthermore it is a good bet that we walk over a good dozen or so of them each day, buried far beneath the cobblestone of modern-day Rome, and likely destined never to be uncovered unless modern-day Rome itself should one day fall prey to the ravishing hands of time. Which, I suppose, it probably will, as all things do.

The prison where Peter and Paul were kept made an enormous impression on me, although I am sure, not enough of one. The appropriate reaction could only have been to fall to my knees and to have wept and kissed the ground and to have prayed with such tears streaming down my
face; to have wept for the suffering of Peter and Paul, and to have wept for my own paralyzing cowardice, and to have kissed the earth where once lay the broken bodies of these men with more of the courage of God and the love of Christ than I fear I will ever know or have.

It is told that Peter and Paul converted all forty-seven of their fellow prisoners, as well as their two jailers. It is also told, by all accounts accurately, that, being without the water with which to baptize those forty-seven and two, a miraculous spring burst up through the stone floor when the divine liquid was needed.

I could not say what the dimensions of that dreadful dungeon are; but in order to have converted their forty-seven fellow prisoners, there would have had to be just that many men crammed into that damp, unilluminated, demonic place. There would not have had even enough space to lie down; and they were there, if I recall correctly, for nine months. We cannot fathom; it is so infinitely beyond anything in our experience. And as I stood there I closed my eyes and I am sure that I tasted something of the fear and the horror that settled itself on the shivering souls of those forty-nine men in that cell; and even that vague taste was more than I could bear, and I shook it off before it completely overwhelmed me.

In the stone of the ceiling of the cell is cut a hole only a few feet in diameter, through which prisoners would have been lowered to serve their sentence, that, one way or another, resulted in death. And at the back of the dungeon was another sort of aperture through which the corpses of the dead would have been removed: dead by starvation; dead by pneumonia; dead
by God knows what else—-fear, most likely, and despair, which is likely so often the cause of death of such men, and which disease no doctor has yet been able to diagnose. Although Peter and Paul proved themselves doctors capable of curing it, with the grace of God.

The Pantheon also made a deep impression on me, but for very different reasons. Facing the front of the Pantheon, one sees only the expanse of the portico, which is bordered by a number—perhaps a dozen or so—very large, impressive columns of the Corinthian species. Then above these around the perimeter of the portico there is the architrave, which, as we travel vertically, gives way to a roof that comes to a peak. From this angle there is no sign at all of a dome, for it is cleverly hidden by this façade and the peaked roof; this was done quite purposely, and ingeniously, such that upon entering the Pantheon one is completely bowled over, thrown off one's feet, overcome in one's senses, by the sheer immensity of the dome that rises overhead. Walking through those doors feels how I imagine it would feel if you had had a twenty pound brick sitting on top of your head all your life, and of a sudden some blessed liberator came along and plucked the thing off; and certainly in that moment, with that accustomed weight suddenly gone, you would feel as if you might very well rise right off the ground. Such is the liberating effect of that impossible bit of architecture's breadth billowing above one's head.

Our guide had in fact explained that this was the intended effect even before we walked through the first century giant bronze doors, but even so my skepticism led me to be delightfully unprepared for it.

After that we came back to our hotel, which doubles as our school. After lunch was philosophy, the professor of which could not possibly have yet left his twenties, who does not have the piece of paper which so many value now as the only possible indication of learning, and who almost immediately proved himself immensely more knowledgeable than most who do have it. It is a two hour class in medieval philosophy, and I was enthralled from beginning to end. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that in the future. So I will leave it for now.




Blogger Fidelio said...

And he babble on, shamelessly, whilst work fails to get done.


12:12 AM  
Blogger Fidelio said...

Though, obviously, I can't even spell babbles. I need to blog about Much Ado About Nothing.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Follow my Whimsy said...

The Pantheon is magnificent. Even more so because the dome is made of POURED concrete. I didn't know they could do that back then! But the volcanic stuff they used made very strong, very light concrete which probably explains why the Pantheon is still around and looks so good.

6:26 PM  

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