Christmas in Italy – A tale of two churches

Christmas in Italy – A tale of two churches

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.


Wednesday, 03-Jan

Of all the churches in Italy, I’m glad we walked into this one. It’s called the Abbazia Di San Miniato al Monte, and while it’s not the biggest in Florence, it was definitely the most memorable for me.

While this wasn’t the most ornate, impressive, largest, or… really any adjective like that, this church was honestly the most real church that we saw over the course of the whole trip. It was being renovated, with some sections closed off for work, but even with those blockages this place simply seemed more human than any other.

The building itself was unobtrusive. Even though it was perched on the high hill above the Piazza De Michelangelo, in full view of the entire city, it somehow seemed subdued. The walls weren’t gilded, and the doors were simple wood. Inside there were exposed rafters, simple wooden pews, and monks quietly cleaning the floors. It was… austere? Almost? This building still rivals the Cathedral in Boston in size, of course, but still somehow had a humble air about it.

It simply seemed lived in, as if it were used by everyday people.


Further evidence of everyday use lay surrounding the building, in the cemetery and tombstones that we walked through. This was honestly the first real graveyard that I’d seen in Italy; most churches seemed to have crypts, but none had the beautiful headstones and monuments that I’ve grown used to. I ended up just wandering for nearly an hour (I think), looking at engravings and memorials.

One of the most memorable ones was the tomb of a World War 1 pilot, and his family. It was done in marble and bronze, with a shattered propeller cast on top. Somehow that shattered prop was really moving to me, especially with the weather-etched bronze staining the marble below.



Our second church of the day was a lookback at the first day in Florence, when Sarah and I had been wandering around after the Uffizi – the Basilica di Santa Croce. A large church near the middle of town, with a huge Star of David adorning the front.

Turns out, this church houses the tombs of some rather famous people. You know, those guys named Galileo and Michelangelo. Their tombs were arrayed around the perimeter, above beautifully inlaid stone walkways. The kind that also have tombs inset in them… which always slightly messes with my head, since I don’t like the idea of walking on top of someones grave.

I steeled myself, though, since the tombs of the giants of the Renaissance were completely worth seeing. Their sarcophagi were fairly simple, but the adornment around the sarcophagi was what stand out in my memory – beautiful sculptures that seemed nearly lifelike, as if they were simply mourners who had been frozen in time.

See, most of the sculptures that we’d seen so far had been figures in obvious poses. The technical skill was obvious, but the figures didn’t look lifelike… they seemed stiff, as if they were flexing for the camera and holding a specific pose on command.

The figures surrounding the tombs here seemed alive. They weren’t posed, they were simply standing nearby, mourning the loss of those within. Cloth was draped over the step, or a hand was stretched out, steadying the figure against the wall. Simple motions that conveyed life and emotion.

I probably spent a bit too much time here, but I wanted to somehow get the perfect pictures… I’m sure I didn’t, but I’m still proud of how they turned out.

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