Postcard from Rome, Italy: Putting that saintly fashion foot forward

Away from San Antonio during Fiesta… when duchesses were bowing, weighed down by their glittering trains and flashing their fancy footwear, sometimes chanclas, from atop flowery floats… we encountered a rich array of elegant gowns in a fashion show in an unanticipated setting.

Chapels lining one side aisle of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli hosted mannequins wearing some of the Virgin Mary’s most formal attire. Numerous outfits were complete with compatible cloaks and shoes and, of course, matching attire for Baby Jesus.

The basilica’s own Baby Jesus, Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, needed no additional clothes. Carved from olive wood from the Gethsemane Garden in Jerusalem, Santo Bambino always is cloaked in a much-bejeweled golden garment.

The original statue created by a Franciscan dated from the 15th century and was credited for numerous miraculous healings. At one point, Santo Bambino was carted around on house-calls to aid those too ill to visit personally.

An icon of such value attracts much interest. The French hijacked it in 1797, but it was later recovered. Thieves robbed the baby of numerous jewels in 1838, but the worst theft occurred in 1994. Santo Bambino vanished. Even thieves in prison penned public letters requesting their fellow tradesmen return the beloved Santo Bambino. Fresh olive wood was obtained from Jerusalem for the replacement now on display.

The original Santo Bambino might be missing, but, for the faithful, his powerful spirit remains with the reproduction in the basilica. Letters from around the world arrive addressed to Santo Bambino requesting mail-order miracles and are placed beside him to “read” at will. As newer ones arrive, the older requests are burned with incense.

As for the setting itself? No San Antonio ballroom can compare with the shimmering chandeliers and ornate décor found in the basilica.

Somewhere at the foundation of the enormous Basilica of Santa Maria of Aracoeli lies a Byzantine church dating from the 500s. The papacy took over the property in the 9th century, placing it under the control of Benedictines. Immense columns supporting the central nave were harvested from ancient Roman ruins. Franciscans provided much Romanesque and Gothic remodeling and expansion in the 1200s. Heavy gilding of the ceiling was completed in 1575 to thank the Virgin for her assistance in defeating the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.

A monumental stairway, 124 steps, was added in 1348 for those praying for an end to the Black Plaque or seeking penance on their way up to the church (Okay, I confess. We took an easier approach through a side door.). In the Middle Ages, criminals were executed at the base of the stairway. In the 17th century, one of the royal princes who lived above took offense to international pilgrims sleeping on the steps and periodically rolled stone-filled barrels downward to chase them off.

Contemporary superstition claims the faithful who crawl up the stairway on their knees enhance their possibilities to win the national lottery. No point for us. We will never win any lottery. You have to pay to play.

 

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: The church of the Raven King of Hungary stands as stunning landmark

In 1458, a raven flew from Transylvania to Prague bearing a ring sent by the mother of Matthias to let him know to return home. Or so some claim. The raven and the ring symbol can be seen throughout Budapest, and Matthias became known as Matthias Corvinus, corvinus meaning raven in Latin.

The Diet elected the 15-year-old king, even though he had no direct dynastic claim to the throne. He would rule until his death, somewhat suspicious in cause, in 1490. His reign was noted for increased military power, the rise of power of lower nobility at the expense of the upper crust and an artistic Renaissance.

Perched atop a hilltop on the Buda side of the river, the church known as Matthias Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The earliest portions of it were built in the 13th century. Styles range from a medieval relief depicting Mary’s death dates from 1370 to major Gothic details added to the outside and murals inside added at the close of the 19th century. The tallest tower was added by King Matthias, whose royal wedding was held in the church.

Conquering Turks in the mid-1500s white-washed the walls and covered them with carpets to transform the church into a serviceable mosque. Before the Ottoman invasion, some of the faithful walled up the Loreto Chapel containing a statue of the Black Madonna dating from 1515. An explosion in 1686 at the castle nearby sent that wall crumbling, and the statue reappeared for the faithful prior to the end of Ottoman control in 1699.

The church then was remodeled in the Baroque style. Among the kings whose coronations have been held there is Emperor Franz Josef in 1867.

The extensive changes characterizing the appearance of the church today were undertaken in 1895, including the installation of the gleaming, colorful Zsolnay ceramic roof tiles. Despite the intermingling of so many conflicting styles through the centuries, Matthias Church stands as a stunning landmark above the Danube.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Failed again to spy the Holy Grail

Two years ago, we missed the clues secreted in the cup of the 12th angel over the 12th gate in the Cathedral in Cuenca.

But wait. Maybe Cuenca is not where the chalice was at Jesus’ place during his Last Supper was hidden away by the Knights Templar. Some claim it to be sitting right there in plain view in a chapel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Valencia where all can visit it.

An entrance fee replaced the mystery surrounding the Holy Grail hidden in Cuenca. We paid, but once again were as deprived in our quest as the knights of King Arthur. The chapel was closed temporarily.

Consecrated in 1238, the cathedral was built upon the remains of a Visigoth church that had been turned into a mosque. Although primarily Gothic in design, lengthy construction and additions led to portions spanning styles from Romanesque to Neoclassical.

While much of the interior is somewhat plain, the church does include two paintings by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), including the pictured one of an exorcism in progress.

Oh, and then there is an arm. The arm purportedly was attached at one time to Saint Vincent, Martyr, the patron saint of Valencia. Imprisoned in Valencia, the archdeacon of Saragossa faced his test of faith in 304. After stretching him on a rack, Vincent’s tormenters were frustrated by his calm and even joyful countenance despite the pain they inflicted. His flesh was torn by hooks, and he was tied to a red-hot iron grate. As if that was not enough, they rubbed salt in his wounds before he succumbed to the multitude of his injuries. His mangled body was thrown in the sea but washed ashore where his relics were guarded by a raven until retrieved by the faithful.

Two-hundred and seven stairs ascend the interior of the tower of the cathedral. Two family members elected to climb, while one volunteered to stay at the base in case they needed her for scale in photos.

So, maybe are destined to never find a trail to the Holy Grail. That is, unless we travel to Leon in northern Spain and pay the entrance fee to the museum in the Basilica of San Isidoro, where another “real” grail is housed.