Katerina Vignau: Italia as Text 2022

Roma as Text

“The Realities of Christian Persecution,” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Rome on May 17, 2022

As we slowly uncovered the history of Ancient Rome on our Grand Tour, we learned of the beauty and gruesomeness of humanity represented in the Roman remnants.  There are awe-inspiring feats of architecture, technology, art and ingenuity revealed in structures such as the aquaducts, Colosseum, and Pantheon.  

But we saw the bad with the good. The Romans would be cruel to the treacherous to the state regardless of their kinship and would relish in the gory murders of citizens in the arenas.  Thousands of people would die horrific deaths and the people would be celebrating and snacking, waiting for the next atrocity to stimulate them.

Along with that, there was the persecution of Christians.

This however may be more morally complex than originally considered.  We see things through the western-Christian worldview.  As a Christian myself, I had never been taught about the Roman perspective or the specifics of the persecution of other Christians other than the disciples. 

The Romans had opened their country up to immigrants of any culture or country.  Anyone could become a Roman citizen.  They believed it would make their empire stronger.  However, it was under the one condition that people must adopt their laws and gods.  Obviously, being a monotheistic culture, the Christians resisted worshiping other gods and would only obey the Romans up to the extent that it didn’t go against their God or their Bible.  This posed a problem for the Romans and they felt it as a threat to their control over the people. 

Now, their methods may have been extremely harsh, but it wasn’t personal.  They would have dealt with any other threat just as ruthlessly.  When you see it that way, it seems the Romans were more reasonable than originally imagined.

Additionally, I mostly learned of the Christian persecution as represented in the Bible. Persecution in the Bible is addressed but doesn’t express the complete picture of how Christian’s were treated by the Romans.  Paul writes to churches everywhere about the persecution he has gone through (he writes many of his letters from jail).  He writes to Christians that are struggling and encourages them to have hope and joy in the trials because they have Jesus and Heaven at the finish line.  The Bible also details what happens to the disciples in the book of Acts after Jesus leaves them.  They were chased and crucified by the Romans but their convictions were so strong and their love for others so expansive that they continued to share the Gospel to people up until the point they became martyrs. 

As we toured Rome, the once conceptual and general idea of Christian persecution became a tangible reality.  

We biked through the Roman road lined with hundreds of trees that hung Christian martyrs on crosses.

We walked through the catacombs and learned of the Popes and Christian martyrs that died in awful ways.  Or how early Christians ran to the catacombs for temporary shelter from the Roman soldiers.

I was struck with encouragement as our Christian tour guide, Eric, explained that he felt the examples of Christian persecution in the catacombs made him feel empowered to persevere through any he might face. 

I felt grateful for the Christians that stood before me and for my country that allows me to love my God openly.

Photograph taken by Katerina Vignau / CC by 4.0

Pompeii as Text

“Roman Politics- Thing of the Past?” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Pompeii on May 14, 2022

Romans were politically advanced.  The idea of a Republic was a Roman idea that the United States adopted today.  They believed in the sharing of power to keep order and prevent dictators that would abuse the people.  They did this to avoid corruption. 

They had a strong allegiance to their state.  So much so that they would kill their sons or their dogs if they felt that they had been treacherous.  Treachery was one of the biggest sins in their eyes.  The U.S. may not have been so aggressive with this ideal but allegiance and pride in the country is definitely a prominent part of our culture that we learned from the Romans.

However, even the Romans weren’t above corruption and manipulation of the people.  They built the Colosseum to entertain people and distract them enough to keep them content with their political leader.  The United States are masters at misdirection.  The news and politicians will find any way to distract its citizens to whichever topic they please. 

In Pompeii, one of the signs of this in the Temple of Apollo by one of the leaders in Rome.  It was basically a sign to ensure that the citizens that went into the temple to worship would know that it was him who gave it to them.  This was, in essence, political propaganda.  He knew how to keep the people pleased.  It’s a similar idea with our presidents.  Even if they don’t practice religion, they claim to be church-going Christians and take videos of them in church that they distribute right before election season.  They know that if people believe that God (or the gods in the Roman’s case) are pleased with their ruler. 

When we moved on towards one of the most opulent houses in Pompeii, we were met with a self-portrait of the owner of the house.  He wore white robes that represented candor or trustworthiness.  He would allow people to visit his home and see him as a trusted and open person.  All to convince the people to elect him into a government position.  The candidates for the United States President all wear suits and shake hands with respectable people.  They wear colors like white, blue, and red to show their patriotism.

Similar to Romans, only the wealthy had a real opportunity to become representatives.  They needed houses to invite the masses to.  They needed seamstresses for their stately attire.  Presidents of the United States need money to run and campaign.  The most recent ones have all been educated which means that they had to have had enough money to study and not work right away.

Romans have pioneered the way for our modern American system and continues to leave its mark in the everyday happenings and political schemes of today.

Photograph taken and edited by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Assisi as Text

”The Makings of a Legend” by Katerina at FIU at Assisi on May 20,2022

A lot of Italian culture and lore seems to be exaggerated and hyperbolized over the years.  The she-wolf lf who raised Remus and Romulus for example.  It seems larger than life.  Similarly, sometimes real people become legends in their own right.

But what makes people become legendary?

It seems that one requirement is being influential in their lifetime or doing something revolutionary or unique because not all legends get recognized in their lifetime.  As with many artists, legends often only gain notability once they have passed away.

I believe legends come from leaders.

San Francesco is a prime example of this.

From an early age, Francesco was a very giving man and had a heart for the poor.  He’s recorded to have given all the money in his pockets to a poor man regardless of the chastisement he received from his father.  He cared more for people than he did about worldly pleasures or punishments.  Trading his life of comfort and luxury for a simple life of rags and service.  That is a revolutionary mindset.  It’s not in our human nature to be so sacrificial.

As Catholics believe, San Francesco was a man who was chosen by God to change the church, and he did.  San Francesco started gaining a following but was not recognized officially by the church right away.  This was probably due to the fact that he pushed for reform of the church that was too rich and decadent and not giving enough.  For San Francesco, this was a wide deviance from what he believed Jesus wanted for Christians.  The wealthy leaders of the church wouldn’t benefit from this movement so there may have been some resistance.  However, the Franciscan order grew quickly.  Finally, after both Francis and Pope Innocent dreamed that Francesco was holding up a broken church, the Catholic Church officially recognized his movement.  For them, the dreams meant that Francesco would help fix the church.  His influence proved Francisco as a leader early on.

But there is more that influenced Francis’ rise to legend.

Francesco had a quite symbolic and shocking way of showing his dedication. He ripped off his clothes in public as he renounced his old life and claimed God as his only Father.  Showing that he was quite literally willing to take the clothes off his back for others.

Furthermore, Francesco was one of the first to give all of God’s creations importance by preaching to them.  He established a new order in the church and created a following that still exists today.  Franciscan monks and the Ciara nuns that stemmed from his establishment are still proliferate today (we actually had the privilege of getting to know some of them on our trip to Assisi.) 

Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in his life was Francesco’s stigmata.  A stigmata is a state in which a person becomes so connected with Christ, they adopt the wounds of Jesus.  This supernatural and miraculous death lead to Francesco being named a Saint soon after his death.

There could have been so many factors that lead to his renown today.  The unusually self-less way he lived, the special communication he had with God, or even the fact that he was publicly recognized by the Pope.  Perhaps without the Pope’s recognition, his following may not have been as heavily remembered.  He probably would not have had a church in his honor the way he does now.  

I think we can learn from Saint Francis.  Maybe we should be less fearful of doing what looks odd or uncomfortable.  Fearing people is not what we’re here to do.  Nothing gets done that way.  No one started a revolution, movement, or reformation by asking for everyone’s approval.  Icons follow their convictions and are recognized for it.  Leaders become legends with conviction and action.

Photograph taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0

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