Tuesday, April 7, 2009


On Monday, John took me out for a day trip in Pavia (pron. Pav-ee-ah). It was a beautiful day and at first, the town seemed like a typical, sun-baked Italian town. But John had done his research--Pavia had some things that quickly elevated it to the rank of one of my favorite towns in Italy.

First, the bridge. This bridge was built in 1951, but it is modeled almost exactly to a fourteenth-century bridge that was destroyed in 1944. Although cars use it, it has a wide sidewalk on either side for pedestrians and even a wayside chapel in the middle of it! (You can see it where the roofline changes).

We had arrived in Pavia right after lunchtime and since most everything in Italy closes between 1 and 3, we had some time to kill. So we sat on the grassy banks of the River Ticino, read, watched ducks fight, and admired the bridge.

After our siesta, we went back into town to a Romanesque church (the period of church-building before Gothic) built in the eleventh century. Not only is it a very old looking church--a nice change from the fancy Baroque buildings one sees all over here--but it is of historical interest. Frederick Barbarossa was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor here in the twelfth century.

Unfortunately, the church was built with sandstone, which is soft. On the previous picture, you may able to see that many of the exterior sculptures have been worn away over time. But on the inside, the decoration is much better preserved. This pillar capitol looks like a depiction of the Good Shepherd. Other capitols (the decorated top part of the pillar) have pictures of rude and leering faces, meant to scare church-goers out of their sins.

Pavia wouldn't be a complete Italian city without a castle. This one was built in the fourteenth century by the local nobility. Apparently the great Italian poet Petrarch was once given charge of its library.

John saved the best in Pavia for last. This is the tomb of St. Augustine, whose remains were transferred here from Sardinia in the 8th century. The big marble tomb behind me was made much later, in the fourteenth century. Many of you already know who St. Augustine is--he lived during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. and is probably the most influential Christian writer outside of the New Testament. It was particularly neat for me to see the tomb, since Augustine's work forms a big part of my dissertation!

Here is some of the detail on Augustine's tomb. This scene depicts Augustine's conversion to Christ. I know it's long, but I want to include Augustine's own words about his change of heart (found in Book 8 of Confessions). He had been searching for the truth for a long time, but was unwilling to give up his lifestyle. He eventually winds up in Milan, where, troubled by his own conscience, he seeks solitude in his friend's garden:

"I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.
"So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:13). I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."

If you enlarge this picture, you'll be able to see a man (Augustine) reading a book under the tree and an angel/child showing the scripture to him.

Finally, as an added little surprise, the relics of Boethius (pron. Boh-ee-thius), a sixth century philosopher were in the crypt below Augustine's tomb. Just like today, relics of saints and holy people were a big part of Catholic piety in the Middle Ages and if you look closely, you can see Boethius' bones, to which people would come to pay their respects.

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