As we have slipped back into our lives at home, I’ve thought through what we read, saw, and learned related to our Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal tour.
The first two three hundred of the years of the Church was marked most conspicuously by persecution. We discussed some of those first century martyrs, including Ignatius who gave the ultimate proof of his discipleship in the Colosseum in Rome. After the Apostle Paul addressed in his New Testament letters some of those teachers who were painting outside the lines, with the exception of Gnosticism, we don’t hear much about heresy during the first three hundred years of the Church. Never was the Church more united than when it was most persecuted.
Constantine the Great’s vision, conversion, and his victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge changed everything. The Church was finally free to worship in the Roman Empire, and more than that, the full support of the Roman Emperor, who assisted in the building of new churches and baptistries and in restoring to Christians and churches what had been taken from them during the persecutions that preceded Constantine.
But with that new freedom, dissension suddenly became a luxury the Church could seemingly afford. Heresies like Arianism, which had been simmering beneath the veneer of Christianity’s public face to the empire now bubbled to the surface. Others followed, Donatism, Pelegianism, and Nestorianism are just some examples.
We packed our bags for the last time this morning, and it was nice to be able to close the suitcases without sitting on them. The strategy of taking old clothes and leaving them behind is a winner. I personally left long pants, a pair of shorts, multiple old shirts, two golf hats, and a pair of shoes.
I also feel that being able to get rid of old clothes demonstrates a rejection of the materialism of which Americans are so often accused. It also made a lot of room in our luggage for all our purchases from Rome and Florence.
I meant to mention in an earlier post that one of the stores we saw in Florence, but didn’t shop at was Re Nero. As you can see from the pic above, the items in the store are made in Italy, just like Nero. I also hear that all non-Christian shoppers get a 6.66% discount on their purchases. Just kidding, but seriously, the proprietors of this store are obviously not history buffs.
Today was a travel day. We packed up and checked out of our rooms at the Ville San Michele and then sat around and talked, and ate, and drank, and talked some more, until our driver picked us up at 3:30 p.m. to drive us back to Rome.
The drive through the Italian countryside was beautiful, but it raised more questions. Where were all the people? The road between Florence and Rome is surprisingly unpopulated, and it is not because it is a desert. Also, where are all the business establishments–the gas stations, restaurants, and businesses? Italy seems remarkably undeveloped commercially for how developed it is historically, but granted, we only saw a small sample.
Heavy on our hearts and constant in our conversation for the last five days has been the death of Queen Elizabeth II. I had mentioned Queen Elizabeth I in the post on Day 5, and have referenced Queen Elizabeth II in a prior travel journal post. Queen Elizabeth II apparently loved God and took very seriously her role as not only the head of the Church of England but as a Christian role model for her people.
The question I raised with the team was whether Elizabeth has earned the moniker, “the Great.” It’s a fair question and one historians in the future will get to answer. If so, Elizabeth II will be deemed great because she was good, which is the best reason to be considered great, unlike say, Herod the Great, who was not good.
The day started sadly for Ann, who suffered a tragic loss, when her beloved No. 6 ranked, Texas A&M Aggies suffered a humiliating loss to the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the second game of the U.S. college football season. I told Ann it was an upset not unlike the Visigoths sack of Rome in 410 A.D. I don’t think I helped.
The drive back to Florence was uneventful, thanks be to God, and we successfully returned the car to the rental car garage in the city. I’ve driven in England, Scotland and France, and have even successfully navigated the most dangerous roundabout in the world encircling the Arch de Triumph in Paris, and I have to say that Florence is one of the worst driving experiences of my life.
Our first stop of the day was the Palace of Theodoric, 50 feet from the front door of our hotel. The facade is still standing, along with some parts of interior walls. It is connected to the Church of St. Apollinaire we visited yesterday. Perhaps the proximity of the church to the palace says something about Theodoric’s devotion to God, but I’m merely speculating.
Old town Ravenna is for walkers, although what remains of it is surprisingly spread out. We walked 15 minutes to our second stop: the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Galla Placidia was the daughter of Theodosius I and was taken hostage by the Arian Visigoth King, Alaric, when he sacked Rome in 410 A.D. She later married Alaric’s successor, Ataulf, but after he was murdered, she was returned to her brother, Emperor Honorius. She then married Constantius III. Honorius and Constantius III both died, leaving Galla Placidia Regent for her young son Valentinian III, and effectively Empress of the Western Roman Empire. She was a remarkable woman, and her rule likely extended the life of the Roman Empire in the West. But her life, like Savonarola’s, is an example of the cost of greatness in the Kingdom. Her Mausoleum contains her tomb, that of her husband, Constantius III, and son, Valentinian III.
The Basilica of Saint Vitale was started by Arians but finished in 547 A.D. by Byzantines after they recaptured Ravenna. The most famous mosaics in the world of Justinian and Theodora are in the apse. The octagonal design of the church repeatedly turns one’s attention toward the altar and its surrounding mosaics, as one walks among the columns on the inside perimeter of the church. It reminded me of Charlemagne’s cathedral in Aachen, Germany, and I wondered if Charlemagne saw San Vitale when he was in Ravenna and whether that inspired his building of the Aachen cathedral. I did a little research, and sure enough that is exactly what happened.
While at St. Vitale, The Wife found the well (over which the church was originally built) where, in the 2nd century A.D. under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Saint Vitalis was martyred by being buried alive. For this find The Wife received a battlefield promotion to Chief of Research of the GSB Research Division. She seemed satisfied with the title, even though it came with no additional compensation.