Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 10

Basilica of St. Apollinare, built in 5th century by Arian, Theodoric

Today, we rented a car in Florence and drove to Ravenna. As we left Florence, I realized how much this place had grown on me. Florence is a walking city, and that suits me. Cars seem strangely out of place here on the cobblestone streets, unwelcome intruders that are given little attention by its citizens. People love Florence for its art, but its history rivals its art, particularly during the time of Savonarola. I do hope we are able to return in the future.

I should also mention that the practice of packing worn-out clothes and discarding them along the way has been both convenient and a spiritually refreshing hedge against materialism, and its better than self-flagellation or wearing a hairshirt. Other members of the GSB team have adopted the practice–discarding clothes not wearing hairshirts.

We arrived in Ravenna late in the afternoon but in enough time to see the Basilica of Saint Apollinare, Dantes tomb, and the Basilica of Saint Francesco (the church where Dante’s funeral was held).

Arian mosaics line the walls of the Basilica of St. Apollinare

At the Basilica of Saint Apollinare, we were confronted with the same issue we will face tomorrow: the Arianism of Theodoric and the Arians who occupied Ravenna for nearly 50 years. The mosaics in the church are said to reflect the Arian view of Jesus; but I wonder if art historians are reading too much into the mosaic.

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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 9

View of Florence from San Miniato al Monte

The GSB team has clearly splintered. As I planned my day for mining the Christian history from the city of Florence, the balance of the GSB team was preparing for hair appointments, shopping, and a late dinner at a fancy Florentine restaurant. Rather than asserting my leadership, casting vision, and calling them back to the divine purpose of our trip, like the father in the parable releasing the prodigal, I let them go.

For three days I had been on a quest for the tomb of Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola. Pico (a/k/a “Pico De Gallo” according to Ann) was a polymath, brilliant on the level of an Einstein. In 1486, at the age of 23, he proposed to defend 900 theses, some of which are now considered proto-Protestant, against all who rose to the challenge. The Pope declared 13 of the theses heretical. Pico heard Savonarola preach and persuaded Lorenzo de Medici to use his influence to bring Savonarola to Florence, which turned out great for Florence but bad for Medici, unless you credit his deathbed repentance.

Pico died at the age of 31 of poisoning, and it is now believed by some that the Medicis had him poisoned because he became close to Savonarola. Savonarola performed his funeral. Pico’s tomb is in the Church at San Marco, and after three attempts the two prior days (the church was closed both times), I finally got in to see the tomb today. In front of his tomb sits a bronze statute of Savonarola, protecting Pico in death as he had tried to do in life.

Pico’s tomb (top), guarded by Savonarola

On the way back from Pico’s tomb, I did meet Ann for a tour of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, another palace of the Medecis. We arrived at 11:20, but the ticket attendant, who had just turned away another couple and then argued with a local she would not allow in, told us we had to make a reservation to get a ticket. She demanded we make a reservation for 11:25, go out and come back at 11:25 to buy tickets. Yes, you read it right, 11:25. When Ann and I got outside we looked at each other, and I said, “She’s a ticket Nazi.” Still we wanted in, so we complied and returned exactly 5 minutes later and we were permitted to buy tickets and enter. We saw what there was to see in 45 minutes, including a painting of Constantine’s vision at the Milvian Bridge, and were out.

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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 8

The Duomo-Is the inside worth the price of admission?

So, I had a very funny blog post about ready to go, but the GSB editorial division reviewed it and would not let me post it. I don’t remember the specifics of their objections, but words like “insulting,” and “stereotyping” were used; I called it painting with a broad brush and insisted any kind of painting in Florence was encouraged, even the stereotyping kind. The editors were not convinced. So, I went back to the drawing board.

Because this is, after all, a travel blog, I think it appropriate from time-to-time, to offer advice to first-time travelers, such as this gem: If you don’t speak Italian, speaking English with an Italian accent will not help the locals unversed in the Queen’s English understand you. I mention this because I noticed a member of the GSB team trying this this morning. I thought if an experienced GSB traveler made this mistake, you might be tempted to the same error.

Today, the rest of the GSB team went on a wine tasting tour in the Tuscan countryside. Whatever. All I can tell you is they left, and they came back and said they had a good time. I, on the other hand, mined this town’s history for any nuggets of Kingdom history it would yield, and I did find some treasure.

First, I visited the Baptistry of St. John, an iconic landmark just a five minute walk from our hotel. Dante was baptized here, as were members of the Medici family. After that, I got in line to enter the Duomo a/k/a Florence Cathedral, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (in English, “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”).

Forty-five minutes ahead of opening, the line was already 100 yards long and wrapped around the side of the church. An hour later, as I was finally nearing the entry, a tour guide directly behind me began singing Ave Maria. I think 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall would have gone over better with her group.

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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 7

The spot where Savonarola was martyred for speaking Truth

Today was our Savonarola day. Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498 A.D.) was a Dominican monk who preached Truth in Florence in the 2nd half of the 15th century. Savonarola did so in the face of opposition from the most powerful man in Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, who had coopted Florence’s freedom, murdered political opponents, and bribed the Catholic church. Moderns practically worship Lorenzo de Medici because he promoted and financed the arts during the Italian Renaissance, but his rightful place in history is more dubious.

When de Medici sent his friends to persuade Savonarola to stop preaching against his corrupt practices, they became Savonarola disciples. De Medici then tried to bribe Savonarola, which also failed. But when de Medici was on his death bed and needed the last rites, instead of calling any number of priests loyal to him, he called on the one man he knew would speak Truth: Savonarola. At de Medici’s bedside, Savonarola asked de Medici if he placed his faith in God for his salvation, and if he would return all the money he had obtained unlawfully from others. His answer to both questions was “Yes.”

Unlike other preachers at the time, Savonarola preached directly from the Bible, and the Word changed peoples’ hearts, drawing them to repentance. Luther and other Reformers considered Savonarola a proto Protestant because of his doctrine on salvation by grace through faith. Florence, for a time, was a changed city, culminating in the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities, when people voluntarily set out their pornography and the clothes and masks they used for the Florentine version of Mardi Gras, into a bonfire in the Piazza della Signoria.

Unfortunately, the change was short-lived, and after preaching against corruption in the Catholic church, being excommunicated, and Florence being threatened with interdiction by the Pope, a rival group incited a mob to descend on the San Marco Convent and take Savonarola and two other monks away to the Piazza della Signoria, where they were hung and burned. But while the change in Florence didn’t last, Savonarola’s influence on individuals did. For example, Michelangelo, who had heard Savonarola preach, is said to have carried a book of Savonarola’s sermons with him for the rest of his life.

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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 6

The likely spot where the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down

We only had half a day in Rome today before leaving for Florence, so I booked a private tour of the Vatican beginning at 7:30 A.M. The rest of the GSB team, whose anti-popery conspired with their love of slumber, decided to sleep in.

If you go to the Vatican, I highly recommend booking a private tour. It allows you to skip many of the long lines, and you can direct your guide to the things you are interested in. The Vatican is known for its art, and most Vatican tour guides are trained to talk mostly about the art.

With a private tour, you can stop your guide from talking about things you are not interested in and focus on your interests. Yesterday at the Forum, our guide started telling us about Romulus and Remus, and I stopped her and asked her how Rome was really founded. Tour guides are trained to tell you fairy tales and ghost stories.

So, today I told my guide today exactly what I was interested in and wanted to see. As I result, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Sistine Chapel and we spent no time looking at the tapestries. Instead, we focused on the events and people relevant to this blog.

Helena’s porphyry sarcophagus in the Vatican

I had on the itinerary for our time in Rome a visit to the Mausoleum of St. Costanza (Constantine’s daughter). I had mentioned this from the first day in Rome and among the GSB team it had morphed into the “Mausoleum of George Costanza.” Unfortunately, it never fit our schedule. But today at the Vatican, we ran across the porphyry sarcophagi of St. Costanza and Constantine’s mother, Helena, in one of the hallways. If had not told my tour guide my interests at the beginning of the tour, we might have walked right by them.

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