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.
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.
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.
Siena As Text
”Living Intentionally” by Katerina at FIU at Siena on May 27, 2022
Studying abroad has taught me to appreciate the moment I’m in. As you go through the trip, you start to realize that you will never have a trip like this again with the same people. This trip is fleeting just like every other season in life. Many of the artists from the churches had much more life experience than I do, realized this. They knew that they needed to focus on what God has for them to make life meaningful. The cappuccinos made art made of their bones to remind people that time is limited, death is a part of life, and to take your relationship with God seriously.
Siena was a beautiful city that seemed to be streets teeming with commercialism and chain stores but then in a sharp juxtaposition, had medieval churches. In the middle of the Opera Della Metropolitana’s floor, there was a piece made of in-laid stone showing the progression of wisdom people go through in life. First, you accumulate money, and grow in wealth. Once you have reached the height of riches and luxuries, you realize that money is meaningless. You reject your wealth, when you reach the peak of wisdom. This artist realized that striving for money is worthless.
In the Medici Chapel, Michaelangelo made sculptures called Dusk, Dawn, Night and Day. They all had downcast expressions on their faces. While Michaelangelo made them, he was going through a dark time where he felt that everything he had done was meaningless. His strivings in art suddenly didn’t feel as important anymore near the end of his life. When he realized this, he became more devout and started to focus more on God.
So much of the churches we saw are trying to point you up to the heavens and to what really matters. One day, we’ll hopefully realize that so much of our striving is not as important as we think it is. This may seem like a depressing or unsettling thought for someone but it’s a comforting one for me because it reminds me to live with my priorities in the right place so that I don’t squander my life. I aim to live my life intentionally, so that I won’t live life with regrets.
Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0
Firenze as Text
“Connection through Relics” by Katerina Vignau at FIU at Firenze May 28,2022
Firenze as Text
Connection through Relics
So many churches keep records through relics. Catholics will often hold objects from important parts of their history in the center of their churches. They keep them on display and protect and decorate them with ornate cases. People from across the world go on pilgrimages, traveling extremely far distances to witness the real relics in-person.
These momentos vary from body parts to man-made items. I continued to see them in almost every Catholic Church we visited. Pieces of the cross, a saint’s head, or piece of Saint Catherine’s finger. They had the Pope’s staff or their entire body.
To Catholics, there is power in being close to these objects. The holiness of these relics are deemed so influential that they can help people get into heaven simply by being buried close to them.
For them, these relics are much more than interesting. These relics have power and meaning. It gives Catholics a tangible item to see and hold and interact with. It’s similar to why people like to keep items from their loved ones who have passed away. Relics give Catholics a way to connect with the Saints and their God, whom they care so deeply about. They become less of these medieval figurative ideas and more humans.
I felt like Saint Catherine was looking right at me while I was looking at her preserved head. She became more than just a story about a person and more of a living and breathing human being right in front of me.
This part of Catholic culture was a new experience for me. I didn’t know that so many churches had these or how important it was for them. And the idea of preserving pieces of their bodies was jarring and confusing for me but as I saw Catholics interacting with them and I saw them myself, I began to realize why they use them.
It preserves part of their history and takes the ideas of these people and makes them feel real and relevant today.
Cinque Terre as Text
“People Reflected in Traditions” by Katerina at FIU at Cinque Terre on June 1, 2022
Cinque Terre is a collection of five towns that sit beside each other. They all have their unique environments and cultures but all have preserved a lot of their small town tendencies despite being very commercialized. When most people think about Cinque Terre they think about fresh sea food, lemons, the hikesand of course the gorgeous beaches and mountains.
What they often forget to mention is its rich culture and traditions.
The people of Cinque Terre have pilgrims across the world that come to walk the Cinque Terre trail and visit the chapels along the way.
Interestingly, there are also a lot of traditional celebrations that prove Cinque Terre is much more than a beach vacation spot.
Manarola has a nativity scene made of thousands of lights. Vernazza has an underwater Jesus birth. Monterrosso, famous for their lemons, has a lemon festival.
Then, there is a race that includes all the towns, in Spring, where they race in honor of the Sciacchetra wine.
There’s a Christ Feast, a San Giovanni Feast, and a Saint Peter’s and Paul’s Feast. All with their own specific traditions and foods served on those days.
And of course there are two anchovy festival because this is the world renowned seafood hub. One is a fried anchovy festival and the other is a salted anchovy festival. Monterrosso hosts both these fishy festivals with vendors and tastings all over town(Festivals and Feasts in the Cinque Terre, between Religion and Tradition).
As shown above, Cinque Terre has holidays that would put American’s Fourth of July fireworks celebrations to shame. These holidays give you insight into who the Italians of that region are. The abundance of religious holidays show the importance of Catholicism. The festivals surrounding food show their pride and culinary ingenuity with their local foods. The racing shows their competitive spirit. And lastly all their celebrations show how much Italians like to enjoy life and celebrate with one another.
“Festivals and Feasts in the Cinque Terre, between Religion and Tradition.” Visit Cinque Terre, 12 June 2020, www.visitcinqueterre.eu/en/2020/06/12/feste-cinque-terre/. Accessed 3 June 2022.
Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0
Venezia as Text
“La Dominante e La Serenissima” by Katerina at FIU at Venezia on June 4, 2022
Venezia has two names: La Dominante and La Serenissima(Venezia: La Serenissima, la Dominante). These directly translate to The Dominant and The Most Serene. Venezianeeded one title to earn the other. Similar to the Pax Romana, peace was achieved by becoming the most dominant military force in the region. The people who later became Venetianswere being plumaged continuously by barbarians on the mainland. When they realized they could escape their tormentors by building in the ocean, the city-state of Venezia was born and achieved peace.
Venezia became a refuge. And when if the city was ever underthreat by pirates or different naval powers, Venice would protect their peace. Venice’s unmatched naval strategy, technology and force was what allowed them to establish peace for so many years.
Venice’s history shows that peace is something that needs to be fought for.
“Peace be with you, Mark my evangelist. Here [in Venezia] will be your resting place.” An angel said this to Mark as he travelled over the Venetian Lagoon. And in keeping with Venetian tradition, Mark’s journey to resting in peace in wasn’t an easy one.
Mark’s body needed to be smuggled into his final resting place, here in Venezia, past the Muslims who persecuted Christians by hiding his body under pork. Even after he was finally in Venezia, Mark’s body was lost temporarily to then be returned later.
As history has shown, the world doesn’t make peace easy to encounter. There is always someone or something just around the corner that will jeopardize it. It’s a part of life. But, we can learn from the Venetians to be strong and ready to guard our peace.
Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0
“Venezia: La Serenissima, La Dominante.” Il Vaticanese, http://www.ilvaticanese.it/2011/09/venezia-la-serenissima-la-dominante/. Accessed 5 June 2022.