Italy, being the home to the Catholic church, has hundreds of stunning churches and cathedrals that now hold a special place in my heart after seeing merely a few of them over the past two weeks. However, despite their absolutely breathtaking beauty, there are a ton of distinct differences from our churches in the U.S.. Most of these differences are cultural differences, however, there are definitely architectural differences as well.
Culturally speaking, the differences that I noticed immediately between us can be summed up in one word: conservatism. At the doors of every church you go to, whether in Rome, Florence, Pisa, Naples, etc., you see signs that read “no shorts, short skirts, food, drink, flash photography, hats,” and a plethora of other restrictions. In the U.S., even in the main cathedrals and basilicas that gather tourism, they would never deny entry to people going into the church. I just find it interesting that in Italy, instead of trying to be as welcoming as possible, they seem too caught up in making sure people look nice.
For me, the Catholic faith is supposed to practice what they preach. If people want to appreciate the beauty that many of the churches in Italy possess, why stop them because their skirt is too short, or their shoulders aren’t covered, or they aren’t wearing long pants? I understand that you want people to be respectful, but there’s a fine line between asking for respect, and being picky for the sake of proving a point.
Now, all social differences aside, the structures themselves are stunning, but also differ greatly from region to region. In Rome, the renaissance-style of art is found in almost all of the churches, and at least for me, nearly brought me to tears. However, in Florence, the style was far more Gothic and medieval, yet equally as beautiful as all the others. But what I noticed between all of them, was the extreme emphasis on the Old Testament of the Bible. More stories and paintings about creationism, Moses, etc., than Jesus himself. However, I see these things as a blessing for me, because we have nothing close to it in the U.S.. We have some unique buildings, don’t get me wrong, but they’re far from the level of beauty these churches in Italy have.
When I finally got the opportunity to see these marvelous attractions such as St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Duomo, the extreme detail and precision, combined with the sheer size, took my breath away. Even the local parishes such as San Miniato or Santa Maria della Concezione, that weren’t necessarily that big, had an immense amount of beautiful artwork in the stained glass, or the altar, or the ceiling, or another part of the building that gave it its character. That’s what impressed me the most; that each church had something unique that gave it its character.
So, if the Catholic church were to mix the more “accepting” style of the U.S., with the beauty of the Italian churches, at least for me, it would be perfect. And although I deeply admire the work Pope Francis is doing for the church, I’m extremely worried what the the conservative side of the church is going to do once his Papacy ends. Sure the beauty will still be there, but will the acceptance that Francis has worked tirelessly to work towards get better, or will it simply reverse to its original state?
“If someone…searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” ~Pope Francis