Italians have long had the reputation of being “passionate”, “hot-tempered” – never “wishy-washy.” They are known to be wonderful cooks and stylish dressers. Their art and architecture are world renowned. I know all these things to be true, and in the past week, I have learned one more fact… Italians take the concept of holidays to the max!
Throughout the entire country, the tradition of “Ferragosto” is in full swing. This is to say that a healthy majority of the businesses, especially the shops, are closed for the month of August. The Italians are on holiday, and the fact that there are 1,000s of tourists running around with Euros burning a hole in their pockets is NOT their concern.
And in fact, they are a little cynical about it. In many cases, the plate glass windows have not been shuttered up… the beautiful clothes, linens, and other things I’d love to cart home are lying there… beyond reach but teasingly visible.
Oh well, we have yet to go to Florence, and I seem to remember a bit more enterprising spirit there amongst the descendents of the Medici.
Actually, I quite admire the concept of Ferragosto. I think it’s healthy that the whole country takes a month off… But as a tourist, I admit that I’m feeling somewhat deprived.
So, the shopping excursion thwarted, Jorge (with a secret smile) and me (with resigned determination to make lemonade out of lemons) strode determinedly away from the padlocked emporiums.
We visited a church (at the top of 70 stairs) called “San Pietro in Vincoli” – “St. Peter in Chains.” Here we saw a well known Michael Angelo sculpture of Moses. Originally this piece was to be part of a huge mausoleum that would feature 40 statues, but the whims of Pope Paul III changed direction… the project was reduced in size and stature, and the sculptor moved on to create other masterworks.
In this church we also saw a bronze and glass reliquary that houses, what are believed to be, the chains that Herod used to bind St. Peter prior to his execution. They were reportedly brought to Rome by a noblewoman who received them from the hands of the bishop of Jerusalem.
In Rome, one finds many relics. It is easy to be skeptical… How could the Church elders know for sure that a piece of metal was a nail from the True Cross, or a length of manacles was the precise one that tied the wrists and ankles of St. Peter?
I can make no significant comment on this, but I once read a book that presented a new twist on the subject. “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova is a gripping novel about (of all things…) the search for the tomb of Count Dracula. But in the telling of her tale, Vlad the Terrible slips in importance, and the reader is introduced to orders of monks who spent their lives protecting the relics of Christendom. These objects were carefully catalogued and their provenance, officially verified. They held tremendous power because in an age of nearly total illiteracy, they were something the masses could touch and understand. There was an obsession to possess them, and they were jealously guarded.
And there you have it – the eternal question of fact vs. myth. Absolute veracity is impossible to pin down; eventually it all boils down to faith… either you have it, or you don’t.