Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2008

Two Men and a Sarcophagus

In a post below (titled The Perfidious Myth of the Unified Church) I talk briefly about and show a photo of a sarcophagus in the Vatican Museum. This is officially titled "The Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers". Following is what my classmate Perry had to say about this beautiful monument:

Two Men and a Sarcophagus

The highlight of the whole adventure occurred for me in Museo Pius in a lecture by Professor Martin Wallraff. While touring tombstones the class gathered around a popular and somewhat peculiar sarcophagus, the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers. Carved together on one sarcophagus and buried together within it (facts that together represent a highly unusual story) were two men. Professor Martin did not debunk the story presented of two brothers; rather, he simply questioned the interpretation as definitive. It is possible they were brothers; however, there is no Roman precedent for brothers sharing a grave anywhere in the Roman catacombs. Many examples exist of hus…

Reading Backwards

So in the posts below I hope you will get a sense of the class, Rome: A Crossroad of Religion, I just had the privilege of taking, thanks to Starr King School for the Ministry, The American Waldensian Society, and Dr. Gabriella Lettini. Of course this is a fragmentary overview, and my purpose is survey and not exhaustion. I want to share some photos, observations, and in-class learnings in the hopes that I can bring to life some of the ways in which this experience came alive for and through me.


Brilliant graffiti near the Roman Forum--just imagine it not-sideways...


Since I'm pretty low-tech, generally speaking, this blog reads in somewhat reverse order. The first thing I wrote was an overview and introduction to the class, so if you read this in typical internet fashion it will be the last thing you read. Here is a link to jump down to that post, which I hope you will read first to get framework in which to fit the other sections of writing and photographs. Thank you for re…

Depicting Rome, pt. 1

The Tiber as seen from the Ponte Principe Amadeo--this sideways problem is tricky. All I can say is that portrait-oriented photos don't get sidewaysed in Preview, or in iPhoto. Computer friends, help!




The interior dome of the Pantheon. The whole of the temple dome is poured concrete, with walls 20 feet thick at the base. The interior is exactly as tall as it is wide: 140 feet. It survives (at least in part) because it was made a Christian church in the 7th century.




The Sacristy in Santa Maria sopra Minerva




Sundown in the Roman Forum




Detail of the Triumphal Arch of Titus. It commemorates the Roman Imperial sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This panel, from the interior of the arch's span, shows the triumphal procession parading the spoils plundered from the Herodian Temple--note the large candelabrum. Roman Jews are a distinct group, historically descended from Palestinian Jews who moved to Rome in the Second Century BCE. Thus they are neither Sephardic (Spanish) nor Ashkenzi (E…

Prayer Lives of Starlings

I am taking a class this semester about the teaching and theology of Dr. Howard Thurman. It is taught by Dr. Dorsey Blake, who in addition to his work at Starr King is the pastor of Dr. Thurman's Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. In the first class meeting we watched about an hour of an interview with Dr. Thurman. At one point, when Dr. Thurman was discussing his practice of reading as meditation, looking for the occasional passage where the author's authentic voice and presence leaps out through the text, he mentioned a book on elephants he read on an ocean voyage. The book featured an entire chapter on The Prayer Lives of Elephants, which seemed silly to Dr. Thurman. But then he read something similar about monkeys, and then noticed that a certain dog in his own neighborhood would trot to the crest of a small hill every day near sunset, would sit there until the sun had gone down, and then would trot off again. He accompanied that dog a few tim…

Depicting Rome, pt. 2

Ruins of a Christian church built into the ruins of an ancient Insula (apartment block) in the Southwest hillside of the Capitoline. Rome, where even the new ruins are three times older than my country.



Flower shop at night. It seems to me that the fellow on the right has had his fill of tourist taking snapshots.



Long exposure of St. Peter's square at night. Hard to capture the unbelievable huge vastness of the space without a fisheye lens, or a spy satellite or something. When Bernini first designed the Piazza the ginormous porch had not yet been built on the front of the Basilica, and the dome was much more prominent. The porch is generally derided for its clumsy proportions and opressive and overwhelming mass. In this photo you can really see how it makes the dome (which is, uh, the tallest in the world at *450* feet!!!!) look like a pathetic little beanie. This is a trick of scale, as the dome is actually almost a tenth of a mile from the front of the porch. I know, go b…

Family and Gender in Ancient Rome

I mentioned below that Prof. Diane Lipsett delivered a wonderful lecture on the conversation currently taking place between New Testament scholars, family historians, social archaeologists and the like. The title of this post is actually the title of en entire semester-long course taught by Prof. Lipsett, so for our, geez, ninety minute session she condensed her focus to Men, Women, and Children in Ancient Rome. With her permission, I am posting my notes from this lecture below, tweaked a little for readability.

Prof. Lipsett is interested in studies of gender formation among non-elites as well as elites, those people about whom we know much less because they did not have the resources or clout to commemorate and study themselves, generally speaking.

Roman households were much broader than we conceive of in modern terms, with a wide spectrum of people connected by family and employment living under one roof (the terms domus/eikos/ikea capture this idea of an indiscriminate household…

Depicting Rome, pt. 3

One of my favorite books of the last few years is Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences, gorgeously published by San Francisco's own McSweeneys'. It attempts to show or create connections between different artworks, public spaces, and ways of thinking and seeing that have echoed in Weschler's life. It is intuitive, mysterious, occasionally infuriating, and completely gorgeous. Above is an example of a convergence between my experience in Rome, and a hiking trip last summer where I got a gnarly blood-blister under my left-toenail, which then took a full month to heal and then fall off. But it could be worse! This poor foot still has its little toe, but the rest are MIA, as is the entire rest of the leg/body system of which it was a key component.

This is a sculptural fragment from the ruins of the Palace of Domitian on Palatine hill, overlooking the Roman Forum to the North, the Capitoline hill to the West, and the former Circus Maximus…

Depicting Rome, pt. 4

One of Bernini's angels on the Ponte Angeli. Each of ten angels holds a different instrument of the Passion.




Roman skyline, from the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo.




Skating rink on the banks of the Tiber. I walked past this almost every day. When we arrived, during holiday, it was packed from early afternoon on. Attendance seemed to taper off after Epiphany (Jan. 6), and by the time I left on the 23rd it was like a slippery little ghost town. Isn't that just the way with youth culture, though.




The sky on the other side of the sunset.




And Sarah! This picture doesn't at all capture the way she was glowing with the sun sinking behind her, but it's pretty okay anyways.

Teaching Moment

One night, walking with Gabriella and Cathy from the seminary to the Casa Valdese, the talk turned to the relationship of the students to the teachers of the class. Gabriella had heard through the grapevine that some of the students were complaining about the accents of some of the guest and Italian teachers, and that the lectures were hard to understand and follow.

At the time, this seemed incredibly ungracious and insensitive, and Gabriella was understandably upset. "I wish that they had the courage to say that to my face. I would have something to say to them!" she said.

At the end of the class, one of the students raised exactly this point during our group evaluation session. We were all sitting in a large circle in the Facolta's common room, having just filled out written evaluations. We were taking some time before the closing banquet to reflect and share thoughts, feedback, and experiences, and one of the students in the course raised up that it had been a…

Depicting Rome, pt. 5

We got a late start on the morning of January 6th, and as we approached St. Peter's Square from the apartment Mom and Dad had rented we heard marching band music and noticed a large number of people bustling towards the square with us. Whoops! It was Epiphany, the culmination of the Christmas holiday, and we were arriving at the square with just enough time to soak in the scene before Pope Benedict gave his Epiphany address!

View Larger Map(scroll the map over to the West to get a sense of the scale of the square and basilica)
Almost the entire, massive square was filled with people, most simply standing clutching umbrellas, but many who were dressed in costume--whether the historical costume of their home region, or as La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch, or as part of a theme with their club or organization (the giant lobster you see below was part of the local kayak club--it was chaperoned by people wearing kayaks with the bottoms cut out so they could walk around).




Finally…

The Perfidious Myth of the Unified Church

On welcoming us to our tour of the Vatican's collection of archaic Pagan, Jewish, and Christian tomb inscriptions, the collection's curator noted that the purpose of our tour was of a kind with the inscriptions we were about to experience: "something about these inscriptions demonstrating the early unity of the church, a unity that you in this class are trying to recapture. Good for you!"

This is, of course, bullshit, as Prof. Wallraff was quick to point out. I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Elaine Pagels shortly before my entrance into seminary, and she was quick to point out that there was an astounding diversity of belief and faith among the early Jesus-following communities. This has been echoed in various of my courses in the GTU, and was raised here by Dr. Wallraff.


Prof. Wallraff lectures in the Vatican Museum's inscription collection




He pointed out that, for one, the people who commissioned and were commemorated by the inscriptions at…

Plunder or Proto-ecology

The Colosseum, perhaps the most iconic of Rome's parade of iconic structures, was famously plundered for building material during the Renaissance, serving as a living quarry for marble and travertine in particular. It was stripped down to a third of its original mass during this building boom. The typical response seems to be: "how dare they have plundered this priceless architectural relic!" Sarah, however, turned this attitude on its head, seeing a resonance between the plunder of the Colosseum and present-day Green building practices. One way building projects earn points for LEED Certification, for instance, is to "plunder" preexisting on-site structures as part of the project.

In today's terms, the much-reviled builders and planners of the 1600's were not plundering, but rather were recycling, making use of a decrepit and no-longer-useful structure as a way of cutting costs and conserving resources. Of course, the stakes were much lower at th…

Depicting Rome, pt. 6

Michelangelo's famous Moses sculpture at San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains), inspiration for weirdos as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Cecil B. DeMille (who cast Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments simply due to the actor's physical resemblance to the statue--yes, I see the joke in that statement). The church also houses what are purported to be the actual chains with which St. Peter was imprisoned. The chains were originally housed in two separate locations, and when brought together in their current location miraculously snapped together to form one unbroken chain. Careful observers might see in this story a metaphor about the "unbroken chain" of papal succession dating all the way back to St. Peter, and by extension, Jesus.



href="http://bp1.blogger.com/__gpxUR3DFgI/SBoqDLcFlWI/AAAAAAAAARg/_74R-9w0sWE/s1600-h/P1040117.JPG">
This building was near the Casa Valdese--I was totally enamored with its frescoes depicting flocks of pigeo…