Today we used our free day to travel to Florence. Michael and Bonnie Moe, parents of Westmont student and soccer player Caroline Moe, joined us. What a fantastic couple. We left our hotel early to give us plenty of time at the main terminal to figure out how to purchase our one-day train ticket to and from Florence. The bullet train travels at approximately 160 mph, and the trip takes just an hour and a half.
I enjoy everything there is to experience in Florence: the art, the beauty, the food and the people. But mostly I love reflecting on the genius that marks the unique period of the Renaissance. What were the singular elements in the society? What of the remarkable benefits of the Medici family and the importance of patrons of the arts? What of the cultural space allowed if not created by the religious authorities in Florence? And what of its enduring contribution? To experience Florence is to open yourself to considering what makes civilizations great and the enduring contribution of rich, cultural cities. Santa Barbara could be Florence.
Of course, no idea ever exists on its own. It has to be experienced. So what were our experiences today? Upon arriving in Florence, we immediately went to El Duomo, the great church named for its famous dome. It is simply stunning in its magnificence and beauty. The remarkable color array outside is matched by the enormous cathedral inside, the octagonal altar, the stained-glass windows, the beautiful sculptures and paintings, and the fresco ceiling depicting the scene of the Last Judgment.
One of my favorite elements is the painting of Dante and the pictorial representation of “The Divine Comedy.” A copy of the painting is on the dust jacket of my version of Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain.” It is a striking depiction of our life with God and our journey to eternal paradise.
Of course, a trip to El Duomo wouldn’t be complete without climbing the 463 steps through the back of the dome to reach the observation deck outside at the top. The views of Florence and greater Tuscany are breathtaking. The passage to the top is barely 18 inches at some points, but the beauty is unrivaled and worth the effort.
After El Duomo, we headed to the Academy Museum. We had not planned to come to Florence, so no advanced arrangements were made, but we wanted to see where the real “David” is housed before going to the life-sized replica. It is impossible to go stand-by. I have never recovered from my initial viewing of the real David five years ago. Beyond the utter mastery of the human body is the willingness of Michelangelo to present a fully nude male form. I continue to wonder why he chose an Italian model rather than a Hebrew one in depicting David. Details matter! Still, to see the slingshot slung over his shoulder, his powerful hands, his perfectly proportioned feet and all the rest is overwhelming.
After viewing David, we headed to the Church of Santa Croce. Mostly, I wanted to see the sheer beauty of the church and also honor the resting place of Galileo, Michelangelo and the empty tomb of Dante. The controversy rages on with Florence wanting Dante back and Ravenna conveniently misplacing his burial site every time the request comes through.
The day ended with a trip through the central market, the bullet train ride back and a quiet dinner with Lynne Tahmisian in our hotel. It has been so fun to have Lynne on the trip. She has a long legacy at Westmont and is now serving on the board of trustees. She is traveling with her sister, Shay, and the two of them have been a delightful part of the trip.
Tomorrow we reflect on the life of Paul and his Epistle to the Romans. I continue to think about the intersection of the ancient world and our contemporary life. I’ll offer some concluding thoughts tomorrow.
Blessings and good night,
Gayle D. Beebe