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Posts tagged ‘Church’

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part V: Lakeside in Garda

It’s something of a contradiction in terms, that two Gentlemen in Verona were not in Verona at all, but should have ventured swiftly onwards to Italy’s great Lake Garda. However, the location of this mountain-locked beauty is comfortably close to Verona, and a mere 30 minute’s train ride transmitted us in a frictionless trajectory to the still waters of Garda, and to the idyllic town of Sirmione, the Lake’s most popular destination.

I’m no lover of tourist hot-spots, but it’s easy to see why Sirmione is visited by millions and the beloved of many. With it’s fairy-tale like Scaligero Castle marking the town’s entrance, and a quaint little historical centre all set upon a slender little peninsular jutting out into the lake, Sirmione is veritable honeypot of Italian charm, and the perfect location for gelato, lemon-flavoured treats and an aperol spritz aplenty.

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I first wanted to see Garda when we saw the utterly mesmerising scenes of young love being played out on its shores in Call Me By Your Name (2017), which I have long proclaimed to be the best film ever made. The protagonists, Oliver and Elio, are not there for long. Accompanying Elio’s father to unearth the discovery of an ancient sculpture found on the bed of the lake, there is a beautiful scene when all three go for a swim amongst the grasses and reeds which give this wide expanse of water the nature of a lake rather than the sea which it otherwise resembles. As we arrived near Sirmione we saw those same lush reeds and grasses, and the presence of ducks and swans marked this out as a freshwater paradise, with a tranquility most unlike the sea.

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A second signposting to Garda was the ravishing book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which author Helena Attlee expertly guides the reader through Italy’s most historically and currently significant citrus growing spots. The atmosphere she conjured with her descriptions of lemon growth on the shores of Lake Garda had me dreaming of the lake long before I went there. Once alongside Garda, I reveled in a panoply of lemon-infused products to mark our arrival in this wonderful place, a lemon-cream filled cannolo being chief among these guilty pleasures.

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Our trip to Lake Garda lived up to both film, and book. We left knowing that this one visit was a mere lemon-filled taster, and that one day we will return. For now, as we ventured back to Verona, these Two Gentlemen felt fully at home, as the city of love and style and Italian chic welcomed us back for one evening more… to drink Valpolicella amongst the people of the Piazza della Erbe, and to stroll in the marble-paved streets of the Romans that went before us.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.

Sant’Anastasia

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A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta

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After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo

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Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Onwards to Vienna, Part 2: The Churches

If the Ringstrasse and the palatial buildings that line it are demonstrative of Vienna’s more recent 19th century prowess (and, with the recent additions of the MuseumsQuarter, its 21st century cultural advances to boot) then its spectacular churches are demonstrative of a magnificent history which goes back yet further. For these religious monuments have truly stood the test of time, from their inception as far back ago as the 13th century, to the progressively exquisite embellishments which have since followed.

The Stephansdom inside and out

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We begun our tour of Vienna’s grandest religious spectacles with the centre point of them all, the Stephansdom cathedral. Often called the soul of the city itself, it is perhaps no coincidence that the cathedral contains a great many of the remains of some of the most historically significant of the Hapsburg rule which lorded over Vienna, and the empire which spread out around it, for centuries. But rather than begin this visit from the inside, we instead claimed the 300 or so steps of its main gothic spire, taking advantage of the aspect which is perhaps most characteristic of this building – its enormous height. There, from somewhere close to the top of the “Steffi” or spire, we were able to enjoy magnificent views not only over all of the city, but of the incredible tiled roof which contains almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles, meticulously restored after the damage inflicted towards the end of the second world war.

Vienna from the top of the Stephansdom

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Having caught our breath upon our rather perilous descent down a very narrow spiral staircase, we did not linger in the inside of the cathedral for long. This was not so much owing to a lack of content, but to both the queues for, and the price of, admission, both of which inspired us to take our leave and seek further thrills in this city of plenty.

The Stephansdom’s spectacular tiled roof

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Next on the list was the equally impressive domed Peterskirche, a romantic oval-based construct remodelled in the 18th century on St Peter’s in Rome, and by no means lacking the exuberant ostentatious interiors of its inspiration. For the interiors of Peterskirche are amazingly lavish, with an eye-catching pulpit meticulously sculpted by Matthias Steindi, and frescoes embellishing the huge dome depicting the Assumption of the Virgin by J M Rottmayr. From the extravagant altar to the richly carved pews, this was a church whose every detail was dripping in embellishment, and easily the equal of the Stephansdom up the road.

Peterskirche

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We encountered several other religious spectacles as we proceeded with our tour around Vienna, although we seldom ventured inside. One we would have liked to have explored, on the inside and out, was the last iconic church of the city, Karlskirch, sitting at one end of the central Karlsplatz. But as I bemoaned in Monday’s post, a further prohibited entrance fee found us fleeing from the tourist entrance, leaving us to appreciate this columned baroque masterpiece from the outside – an aspect which, like so many others of the magnificent buildings clambering to be admired in Vienna, could not fail to impress.

Karlskirche

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Bologna: La Dotta – Learned city where the profane is sacred, and the sacred is mundane.

As far as outward appearances go, Bologna holds its own amongst the crowd. For beautiful buildings, magnificent public monuments, fading Renaissance elegance and vast central piazzas, Bologna is undaunted by its more celebrated rival cities of Florence, Milan and Rome. But behind the facade, in mind, Bologna is quite different. In Rome, for example, the dominant influence of the church, and in particular of the Vatican looming close by, is evident all around. You only need to turn a corner to find another vast church, stuffed to saturation full of the most exquisite baroque sculpture, euphoric painted ceilings, depicting heaven and hell with startling realism and artistic virtuosity, gold-dripping altars, elaborate side chapels, and 100% fresco coverage throughout. In Florence, the green, pink and white marble covered Duomo and its baptistry dominates the city’s central piazza, while just around the corner, the equally stunning Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella dominate their own respective squares.

In Bologna, by contrast, there is a sense that the church plays second fiddle. True, the Piazza Maggiore is at least partially dominated by the looming presence of the Basilica San Petronio, but its vast marble facade has been left unfinished, as though the Bolognese started the expensive task of covering the brown bricks with marble, only to decide that the money could be better spent on other things. Meanwhile, on the inside, the church has a vast gothic interior, rising almost endlessly into the sky, yet compared with other Italian cathedrals, this interior is stark and austere, exhibiting the same lack of embellishment as is all too obvious on the exterior.

San Petronio’s unfinished exterior

And its impressive but austere gothic interior

In Bologna too is the iconic church of Santo Stefano, which is actually comprised of a hodge-bodge of some 8 older churches all linked together. However the rather plain brick-facade of this church is easily dominated by the stunning collonades of the neighbouring buildings, and all of the guide books of Bologna refer not to the beauty of the church, but of the square itself, with its fine Merchant mansions, shopping arcades and perfectly-proportioned palazzos.

Overshadowed: Santo Stefano

That’s not to say that the Bolognese are a population of heathens, rejecting the church and pursuing a life of hedonistic profanity and over-indulgence. The Basilica of San Petronio is, in fact, a mere shadow of its original design, which was intended to be a vast religious temple when designs were drawn up in the 16th century, but which were promptly interrupted by the Vatican who feared that the resulting cathedral would overshadow St Peter’s in Rome. As it is, the cathedral is the 15th biggest in the world. While the intention was there, you can’t help but notice that in spirit, Bologna’s priorities lie elsewhere. For the second of Bologna’s three renowned epithets is La Dotta: the Learned, and the great prevailing buttress of Bologna’s cultural foundation is intellect and learning – and you can see it all around.

A happy Bologna graduate on her graduation day

For starters, Bologna boasts what is said to be Europe’s oldest University, going back some 900 years, and the vivacious influence of the city’s still-thriving university population can be seen all around. On our first morning in the city, we wandered into the university district, just north of the central leaning towers, and there we found a district which was markedly alive with a thriving cafe culture, with campuses and libraries and a predominant feeling of youth and exploration. There, the elegant porticos of the southern city had been replaced by vast graffiti murals, protesting against austerity, opposed to Gaddafi and debating other modern polemics in technicoloured spray-paint. Instead of frescos, here the walls were covered with posters promulgating student presidential campaigns, advertising rooms to rent and promoting concerts and lectures. And instead of tourists, here the students dominated, and in fact on our visit were in the midst of a great summer graduation, for which the macabre mortar-board was replaced with a garland made from olive leaves and ribbon.

But the spirit of learning extended beyond the university. In the Piazza Maggiore we past a group of ordinary locals, energetically debating the state of the economy, some berating the influx of immigrants, others bemoaning the lack of jobs, and the rare few wishing Berlusconi was back in power. The debate went round and round, and views differed widely, but it was wonderful to see these people, vocalising their views, no matter how extreme, in a jocular environment, rather than building up resentment as is so often the case in reserved England. Meanwhile, around the Piazza, a wide range of impressive museums demonstrates Bologna’s thirst for global culture, art and history: We visited the beautiful archeological museum, where a courtyard stuffed full of Roman relics was an awesome sight, and the Pinacoteca Nazionale Bologna, where sadly the most famous works – a Giotto altarpiece and a Raphael had been hidden away owing to the double-bill of earthquakes which hit the Emilia-Romagna region in the last year.

The archeological museum

It would be unfair however to dismiss Bologna’s religious heritage all together. Seek and ye shall find, or so they say, and when you head away from the major Piazzas, there are some religious gems still to be found. The church of Santa Maria della Vita for example was quite a sight to behold. Tucked away in a side street off the Piazza Maggiore, a small door led to an interior which simply took my breath away. You can see from these photos why without further description. Also held in the church were the equally enthralling terracotta sculptures by Niccolo dell’Arca of the dead Christ and surrounding mourners. The sculptures exuded incredible dramatic pathos, the expressions of grief and torment of the figures intensified by the realism of their dramatic facial details.

Santa Maria della Vita

The Niccolo dell’Arca sculptures (protected from earthquakes, hence all the ugly wood)

Meanwhile, head out beyond the city, following the world’s longest continuous arcade (4km long, comprising an ominous 666 arches) from the centre of the city and at its end you will find the stunning sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, perched atop a hill, glowing orange, looking over the city for which it was appointed ultimate guardian.

San Luca

The uphill end of the world’s longest continuous arcade (we took the trenino rather than suffer those steps…)

So at the end of it all, Bologna, with its fiercely independent spirit and pursuit of intellectualisation and cultural superiority has captured a perfect balance. It has not sacrificed religious influence, nor morality, but it has cast the perfect equilibrium between moral precedent and intellectual and cultural freedom. In that respect Bologna has perfected a model which must surely be envied throughout the world.

All photos are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2012 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.