This post was inspired by visits to some impressive monuments to religion, both on large and small scales, and the all-pervasive religiosity of the area in which we are staying. I have had difficulty however in writing it. The problem is I started out being super-impressed by the bigger monuments, and still am. However, I have had second thoughts, as you will see below.
On the larger side, the Duomo in Milan is probably the most impressive church I have seen. The vastness of the internals are reminiscent of an Escher painting as shown here:
On the smaller side, the little streets and alleys in our little town of Menaggio are dotted with small grottos (or is it grotti?) which bear religious artifacts such as madonnas, and which provide a place of worship for local gatherings of neighbours:
What strikes me about the Duomo, for example, apart from the obvious reverence in which it is held by followers, is the magnificent human achievement to construct it in the first place.
An inevitable conclusion is that without the impetus of religion, such beautiful structures may not have arisen. It required a vision, and a need produce grandeur which presumably would appeal to a god. Without the desire to approximate heaven, would the grand flying buttresses, essential to holding up the ceiling, have been designed? Maybe, but perhaps religion formed the ‘perfect storm’ which allowed the necessary elements to combine to produce something which harnesses the scientific, engineering and artistic disciplines so impressively.
However, while admiring the Duomo in particular, I trod on one of the many tombs embedded in the floor and was struck by something – these magnificent monuments were more for the powerful and wealthy than for the ordinary townsfolk. Those remains buried under the huge slabs and in ossuaries in the Duomo and other similar places were no ordinary townspeople.
Clearly, there has been a cost for that ‘human achievement’. The local communities have paid this cost for hundreds of years, while all the time all they really needed was to worship at their local grotto.
Yes, we later generations have ended up with magnificent examples of architecture, art, and engineering at which to marvel, but we should ponder that for every noble buried within, there will be thousands more who paid heaven-tolls all their short lives, and who probably ended up buried in the local fields covered in pig shit.