On October 1st, we left the relatively peaceful and relaxing Greek islands and spent a week in Athens…and then moved on to Rome…hence the title of this blog, Crowds, Museums and Ruins. And we often said to one another, “Oh my!” to the crowds, to the largess of these two incredible cities (Athens and Rome), to the crowds, to the rush and crush, to the museums, the crowds, the ruins, the crowds and, yes, all the people. In these cities we sometimes felt over-run, in the way and sometimes like we had to fight for a chance to see. And again I was reminded of a thought from Cousineau’s book, The Art of Pilgrimage when he wrote, “I don’t believe that the problem is in the sites as it is in the sighting, the way we see. …imagining is required of us.” And indeed, as excellent as most of the museums and ruin sites we visited are, the use of our imagination was extremely important in order to get beyond ourselves and the sun, the crowds and our fatigue and imagine a more complete society of people who lived, loved, worshipped, argued, and learned in the communities we were now seeing as ruins.
Athens is filled with many opportunities to stretch one’s imagination as one walks through the city. The Acropolis with two different temples dedicated to Athena was grand and impressive. Later, when the Mediterranean went from the pagan faith to the Christian one, the smaller of those temples became dedicated to Mary. Not unusual and it required some imagination to see the Parthenon as a Christian church. We visited Mars Hill where Paul is said to have preached to the men of Athens, in the shadow of the Parthenon, the Ancient Roman Forum, and in the new Acropolis Museum we saw the ruins of a Christian community in the midst of its excavation. One can look through the transparent floor and see directly into the ruins that showed meeting rooms, hallways, and homes.
Of course, in Rome it felt that History was directly around the corner or up an alleyway as we turned onto a street and saw the Colosseum directly in front of us. Our imaginations didn’t have the workout here like they did in Athens, as Roman ruins felt so present, protected and prevalent. We visited the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica and were awestruck by the beauty of the art; and we were overwhelmed at the wealth contained in this one area. Like all cities, the homeless are present and in this area especially – a city built around a faith, it was harder to see them.
One place that required almost no imagination was Delphi – one of ancient Greece’s most holy sites. We took a daylong trip from Athens to Delphi – northwest of Athens and high in the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful places I have been in. For me mountains and the sense of the holy go hand-in-hand and Delphi is no exception. We toured the ruins there, heard from our guide of Delphi’s history and then, Jan and I simply sat on a bench, under a pine street, with a cool breeze over us, as we sat in silence and took in the awe-inspiring view of blue sky, a few white clouds, mountains with green trees, white marble and limestone ruins below us. It was easy to feel the Great Mystery alive in this place.
The gift of visiting these two cities, representing two very different civilizations has sparked many conversations, thoughts, and leaps of the imagination as to how and perhaps why we have evolved through the centuries. I look forward to sharing more with you and I look forward to the many conversations we will have about some of these ideas after the sabbatical is finished and we are together again.
Until then, we continue to travel through other parts of Italy and remember you in our thoughts and prayers. Blessings to you,
Editor's note: the comments below were carried over from our old website and were submitted between 10/16/12 and 10/28/12.
The First UU Church of San Diego blog is your resource for upcoming events and past event recaps. Leave us a comment to let us know what you think!