26 June 2008

Quo vadis

I don't actually know what Quo vadis really means, but it is the name of a church that my tour bus hurtled past today, and I think its become famous through some movie or another. Note to self - one to look up some time. If anyone knows, feel free to put in comments.

Along with other notes to self.: 1. Why wasn't Rome bombed to shit in WW2? The whole place is just one massive urban museum, with ancient columns and unlikely looking structures all over the place. So much of Europe lost buildings even from the middle ages, what trick did Mussolini pull here? 2. What is it with all the hott cops in this city? It there some minimal standard for looks for Italian police? Like height requirements in the States? With all respect to Biz, I don't normally look at a man in uniform, but this is getting quite bizarre.

Anyway, back to the travelogue. - June 22, Monday afternoon -

The nice thing about visiting churches to see art is that they are more or less free. Popping a 50 cent devotional in the box easily rids one of the guilt factor for marching around someone's place of worship, guidebook in hand, and wearing a distinctly uncool outfit, in bad shoes to boot. Or, if you're not plagued by concerns for social morés, then a pragmatic reason is that the 50 cents goes towards lighting, cleaning, polish for all those walnut pews, and other random maintenance that allows other people to see the artworks for (nearly) free. Sometimes you seem to need to put a coin in the box to make those crazy spotlights go up on the piece you've come to see. There was a very pronounced slow reveal for Madonna of the Pilgrims that I just saw. Push the button, and a whirring noise started up and then an inoxerable pause while the painting brightens almost imperceptibly, then ta da! A grand master right there in the chapel. Where anyone can just walk in off the street to see it. Neat.

photo credit: ginieland

Actually this one was pretty good, the artistry in it kind of hits you over the head compared with the other sallow saints, pious bishops, angels and rib-poking christs. Apparently it caused a bit of a stir in its day, because the petitioners kneeling in front of Mary and Jesus looked too convincingly dirty and down and out. The man has particulaly realistic grubby feet. Perhaps the artist was having a dig at the social situation of the poor in Rome at the time... ? Anyway, I couldn't help notice that the Madonna was carrying an absolutely enormous christ child. I don't know how old he was supposed to be, but my word, that particlar life model was milk-fed baby for sure. She's also got one foot resting on the toes, just like an elegant Roman lady standing in an ancient doorway next to her vespa and talking on the mobile.

Santa Maria del concezione (immaculate conception)

Another bony church! Yep, as good as Kuta Hora in Czech Republic. Second chapel in the crypt complete with grisly little capuchin monks recreated with skulls and bony little hands. They are about 4 and a half feet tall. One looks a bit of a mummy even. Chapel number three is tricked out in a mass of pelvic bones. I think some of these re-constructed monks are wearing cardboard name tags around their wrists signifying actually who they are. An American student in the slow-moving line next to me says 'We had to do anatomy in college, but I think those ones, made up like that, freak me out more. I can handle the seperate bones, all separated out like that. Those even have vertebrae in there still!'

I'm thinking - are you kidding sister?! This is the coolest thing I've seen in ages. Well, since, the bone church in Czech Republic I guess. I wish I could beam in some of my friends from uni to turn around to and go - whoah man, like, 'bela lugosi's dead .. the bats have left the bell tower, the virgins have been bled bled bled bled'. Etc. Sorry there readers, got carried away on a little Bauhaus jag. I know, the Vampyre legends come about 600 years after all this stuff, my historical time line is all bunk.

At that point, my diary switches to sketches of the layout of these rooms, noting things like a cross motif made of two mummfied arms, a skeleton attached to the ceiling appearing to fly over head, two skeletons perched on a ledge, reaching up to the skull places between them, more wee monky creationg (they had brown robes and all) in repose in wall niches. And not to mention the stars and fleur-de-lys designs made of ribs, jaws, and the other pretty curvy bits too.

I reckon this is where things get down to the nuts and bolts of Christianity. Death. Its all about you dying, and what the hell happens then. These crypts, necropolises, catacombs, etc, are all about making a big focus on the whole spooky dying business. Not surprising really that a couple of monks here and there who were care takers of these ossaries - all the bits left in the 50 to 100 years after your miserable entombment - who took it to the logical conclusion and went bunta with the old bones. Lets jazz the place up a bit, they must have thought. We're not in the habit of paying for drapes or wall paper for the church, no wealthy families making ostentatious donations this year.... hang on.. look at this massive pile of skulls. Hey! Giovanni, I've got an idea..

1 comment:

Betty Sue said...

Quo vadis = "where are you going". Refers to one of the apostles meeting Jesus on his way to be crucified.

I think there was a movie in the '50s called quo vadis as well.

I think it's the Pope being in Sydney for Pope-a-pa-looza that's triggered that memory! They must have been spraying Jesus dust around or something