Postcard from Ravenna, Italy: A pair of baptisteries

Ravenna has a pair of octagonal brick baptisteries dating from the first 500 years or so of Christianity. The oldest of the two, the Neonian Orthodox Baptistery, is named for Bishop Neon who had the existing structure crowned with a masonry dome. The second baptistery was built by Theodoric the Great, the King of the Ostrogoths, because…?

Maybe Theodoric wanted one closer to his palace; although Ravenna certainly is walkable. Plus, Theodoric was an Arian Christian, as opposed to Orthodox or Roman Catholic. To those mainstream Catholics, Arian Christians were heretics. Not a theologian, I have little understanding of the distinctions. Obviously, the differences are major or there would not have been two baptisteries, and the Ostrogoths and those they battled probably would have gotten along better.

The followers of these religions all believed in Jesus, but differed concerning the balance of power. Arians made Jesus subservient to God, His Father, and there was no Trinity. Arians, therefore, were not haunted by the Holy Ghost as part of the religious triumvirate. That made things much simpler to explain to potential converts because the Holy Spirit is conceptually difficult to grasp, particularly since the image is not personified.

Theodoric’s mosaic artists probably were not Arian because the Holy Ghost, represented as a dove, is hovering above spurting water over the scene above to assist the John the Baptist, modestly clad in a leopard-skin cloak. This was fortunate because, when the Arians were kicked back out of Ravenna only a couple of decades later, the mosaics were not destroyed as heretical.

The duplication of baptisteries is particularly interesting because, according to an article by Annabel Jane Wharton, the ceremonial structures were rarely used:

In the early Church, the principal baptismal liturgy took place once a year, on Easter Sunday eve: the of the Resurrection was deemed the most appropriate moment in which to die and be reborn in Christ…. Enrollment of those to be baptized took place at the beginning of Lent…. In the weeks of Lent efforts were made to prepare initiates for their admittance into the full fellowship of the Church through an arduous routine of fasting, catechism, and daily exorcism.

Wharton wrote participants entered the baptisteries and faced west first to renounce the Devil, then east to embrace Christ. Garments probably were removed before the baptism, leaving the new believers as exposed as Jesus above, with his navel the geographical center of the artistic composition and the dome. Then the baptized donned white garments as a sign of their new-found purity.

Because I feel fairly confident few religious scholars would read very far into my posts, I have taken the liberty of jumbling the photographs from the two baptisteries together into one collage. When returning from trips and sorting through images, I sometimes feel as though someone took the whole proverbial slide tray, dumped them out and shuffled them to confuse me. I do believe all of these photos belong to one baptistery or the other.

While years of Saturday catechism classes at Star of the Sea left me with a rather hazy understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit, I am sure happy the nuns opted for a rap on the knuckles instead of requiring daily exorcism during Lent.

Postcard from Segovia, Spain: Saintly mystery, a case of incorruptu disruptus?

San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591) and Santa Teresa de Avila (1515-1582) figure prominently in churches in this portion of Spain. Disagreements with Moors and pagans represented only a portion of the conflicts facing Roman Catholics.

Juan and Theresa ran counter to many of the early Carmelites for their insistence upon deprivation among the order, promoting the discalced discipline, meaning a shoeless existence, in addition to religious contemplation in isolation. Those other Carmelites thought they deserved shoes, and a few more basic luxuries, in exchange for their devotion.

The complicated politics involving different orders of Catholics are so far beyond comprehension based on the simplistic teaching of Roman Catholicism to children in the United States. We always went barefoot whenever possible and often when impractical in Virginia Beach, but I’m fairly certain that had little to do with where we stood on the discalced argument within the church. And Father Habit certainly would not have let us attend Mass in a shoeless state; he definitely was a no-shoes, no-host kind of priest. Otherwise, Catholic surfers might have caught one last wave and tracked sand all the way up to the altar.

But one quickly senses in Europe, all Roman Catholics are not alike. Religion is more complicated than those Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s we repeated somewhat mechanically following weekly confessionals.

But enough uninformed diversion about those distinctions.

Segovia is filled with Romanesque churches existing in the shadows of the Cathedral.

But I might have to go back to the claim of the plaque at the head of this post. “Incorruptu.” That means San Juan’s body remained intact, miraculously even after burial. However, that proclamation ignores all the harvestings by those who wanted to retain some of his miraculous powers in close geographical proximity.

According to Catholic Online:

The morning after John’s death, huge numbers of the townspeople of Úbeda entered the monastery to view John’s body; in the crush, many were able to take home parts of his habit. He was initially buried at Úbeda, but, at the request of the monastery in Segovia, his body was secretly moved there in 1593.

The people of Úbeda, however, unhappy at this change, sent representatives to petition the pope to move the body back to its original resting place. Pope Clement VIII, impressed by the petition, issued a Brief on 15 October 1596 ordering the return of the body to Ubeda. Eventually, in a compromise, the superiors of the Discalced Carmelites decided that the monastery at Úbeda would receive one leg and one arm of the corpse from Segovia (the monastery at Úbeda had already kept one leg in 1593, and the other arm had been removed as the corpse passed through Madrid in 1593, to form a relic there). A hand and a leg remain visible in a reliquary at the Oratory of San Juan de la Cruz in Úbeda, a monastery built in 1627 though connected to the original Discalced monastery in the town founded in 1587.

The head and torso were retained by the monastery at Segovia. There, they were venerated until 1647, when on orders from Rome designed to prevent the veneration of remains without official approval, the remains were buried in the ground. In the 1930s they were disinterred, and now sit in a side chapel in a marble case above a special altar built in that decade.

Sounds like a major case of incorruptu disruptus.