Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Can't Take Everything With You

"Never Go in Against a Sicilian When Death is on the Line!"
photo: entmood.blogspot.com
The Capuchin Catacombs here in Palermo gave us the perfect pre-Halloween excursion.  What an eerie place!  These catacombs are filled with thousands of preserved corpses, most wearing the tattered remains of their finest garments, and arranged in the macabre museum's narrow halls.  How does a morbid place like this come to be, you ask?  Well...

photos: entmood.blogspot.com
In the 16th century, the Capuchin Friar Monastery was forced to find a solution to the over-crowded cemetery.  Since the catacombs beneath the church had just been excavated, it only made sense to designate this as their new resting ground.  Originally, the catacombs were kept for resident Friars only, but word got out, and soon the wealthy began reserving post-life real estate in the catacomb corridors.

Fun Fact:  Cappucino gets its name from the Capuchin Friars whose brown hoods resembled the Italian coffee.  Cappucino means "little hood."

What makes the Capuchin Catacombs unique from other ossuaries is that these mummified/embalmed cadavers (in various stages of preservation and unpreservation) are clothed, stuffed, posed, and propped in grotesque reception lines as if awaiting their guests.  In the time of internment, as families of the deceased donated funds, they could visit and pray with their dead loved one. When contributions for that person ceased, the body would be shelved until payment.  
photo: gorestruly.com
photo: bigpicture.ru

Today, visitors merely walk through and stare face-to-skull with people who lived some 200+ years ago.  The 8,000 mummies are arranged according to social status and gender.  The first section contains monks, and includes the corpse of Brother Silvestro da
Gubbio, the oldest resident, whose remains have been welcoming visitors since 1599.  
Rosalia Lombardo, interred 1920
photo: lifeinitaly.com

In 1881, the Italian government nixed all mummification, but made an exception in the early 1900s for 2 year-old Rosalia Lombardo. Rosalia died in 1920 of pneumonia, and because of a secret chemical embalming process, she looks as though she's napping. Encased in a glass-covered coffin, it's hard to believe that this sleeping beauty died almost 100 years ago.  The doctor, her father, who developed the potion for preserving her quasi-perfetta, took the recipe to his grave (which is about a foot from hers).  No one knows how he did it, though some physicians believe it to have been arsenic-based.

Taking photographs is strictly forbidden in the catacombs (we borrowed photos for this post) because it is, in fact, a cemetery and considered sacred.  Though, I had to laugh at the Monk who periodically came on the intercom to yell at individuals who disobeyed the rules. 

Reality Check
Touring the catacombs was a great reminder of the economy of life. You can't take everything with you.  Strange, isn't it, that some people have the sense to amass fortunes and properties and stuff, and even plan what fine clothes they'll wear at burial, but they don't have enough sense to prepare for eternity.  Stranger still how most of us forget that truth.  I mean, it isn't that God has kept the end of life a secret.  One look in the catacombs is a clear reminder - you can't take anything with you.  The only things that'll go with you are the intangibles; the Love you've given and received, and your Character - the Token of what kind of life you've lived.  Best to decide now to Live a Christ-like life and to reach out in Love toward family and fellow-man.  With thousands of bodies down here, the catacombs sure will be hopping in the Resurrection.  
Behold, verily I say unto you, before the earth shall pass away,
Michael, mine archangel, shall sound his trump,
and then shall all the dead awake, for their graves shall be opened,
and they shall come forth - yea, even all.
D&C 29:26
In fact, there in the Catacombs, Sorella Bradford spoke on the Resurrection with Alessio.  He loved it.
The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form...
Now, this restoration shall come to all,
both old and young,...bond and free,...male and female, both the wicked and the righteous...
Every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame...
and shall be brought and...arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, 
and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit...
to be judged according to their works,
whether they be good or whether they be evil.
Alma 11:43-44

"In Sicilia, When There's Food, There's a Good Time"
Thursday, we had a great Halloween party.  My companion and I dressed up as twins (Ya, I know, there is only so much one can do as a missionary that's appropriate for Halloween).  A lot of people came. Lots of English Course students and most of the ward members showed up - it was fantastic!  We did what we could to get members to interact with non-members, and it worked.  It was an AWESOME time. In fact, everyone came up to us afterwards and talked about what fun they had, so I deemed the whole effort a success.  Though as a member told me only yesterday, "In Sicilia, when there's food, there's a good time!"  She isn't kidding.  There was a lot of food.  Food and Music - magic ingredients for successful activity in Palermo.

Defenders of the Faith: Giuseppe and Nazareno
Sorella W and I spent one morning doing Finding as usual, and we agreed that before going in for lunch, we would treat ourselves to gelato.  So, on our way home, we stopped at one of our favorite Gelaterias.  As we began eating our very delicious gelato (cinnamon is my favorite flavor, and this place made the best I've had), we decided to sit on the bench immediately outside, next to an employee from the Gelateria. Turns out, he actually owns the place and makes the gelato himself.  We got to talking with Nazareno (that's his name), and when he heard that we had a message on Jesus Christ, he invited one of his employees, Giuseppe, to come and talk to us.  Giuseppe is Pentecostal and loves discussing religion.  It became apparent that he is very open and clearly seeks for the good in what others believe.  In fact, when another worker came out to pick an argument with us, Giuseppe stood up and defended our message.  Way to defend the faith, Giuseppe!  By the end of our visit, both Nazareno and Giuseppe agreed to meet with us for a longer discussion, asking if they could bring their girlfriends along.  Why, of course!  The more, the merrier.  We set an appointment for later this evening.  Fingers crossed!

Exquisite Culture Clash
The other evening, I was in Albergheria, one of the more run-down, ghetto-ish parts of Palermo, and a car drove past blasting Andrea Boccelli.  Ah, contemporary opera echoing from the walls of old, dilapidated buildings.  Gotta love Palermo!

Monreale Cathedral
Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world and stands as a national monument to Italy, and one of Sicily's prominent attractions.  I know, you're looking at this picture and saying, What is the big deal?  Well, first of all - it's age.  Construction for the Duomo began in 1174 under the most powerful Norman King, William II (also known as William the Good), making it 840 years old.  Amazing!  After centuries of Arab and Byzantine preeminence, the Normans finally moved in, made Palermo their capital, and immediately began the task of building a Cathedral.  King William IIs vision was to combine artistic architectural styles from all three dynasties, as he employed the greatest craftsmen of his time.  The result is an awe-inspiring fusion of style, tradition, and religious symbolism.  Still don't see it? Though the Cathedral is unassuming from the outside, one has only to step indoors to behold the treasure that awaits.  If Palermo Cathedral is the jewel of the city, then Monreale Cathedral is the exquisite gilded jewel box.  Scroll down and behold....
Entering is a jaw-dropping experience.  Every bit of surface of this relatively small chapel is stunningly decorated.  From floor to ceiling are rich murals, gilded motifs, sumptuous designs, and swirling golden mosaics.  Can we just talk MOSAICS for a moment?  OH MY WORD.  The colored glass tiles are purposefully inlaid in varying slanted angles to allow maximum refraction of light.  Truly extraordinary.  The centerpiece of it all is the colossal picture of Christ (called the Christ Pantocrator, meaning "Creator of all things") in the half dome above the altar.
Christ's right hand extends in a Greek form of blessing.  In his left hand, a verse from the Book of John.
I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me
shall not walk in darkness,
but shall have the light of life.
John 8:12
The Greek letters on either side of his head, ICXC, are symbols for Jesus Christ.  I studied this Cathedral in my college Art History Class.  Very cool to be here in person!
photo: wikipedia.com
The floor, walls, and ceiling are inlaid with Middle-Eastern mosaics.  Two lines of granite Corinthian columns line the central nave.  Lancet arches leap from column to column, drawing the eye upward to the astonishing display of art.
Crypt of William I (The Bad), father of William II

The main ceiling is a staggering labyrinth of painted coffered wood in Arabic design.  Are there any more superlatives to describe the craftsmanship?  How about - Mind-boggling.
photo: for91days.com

The walls hold depictions of stories from the Bible.  Lift your eyes upward, move clock-wise around the chapel, and you'll see almost every story from the Bible, from the Creation and Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and Isaac, to Jacob, to the New Testament stories of Jesus Christ with his Apostles.  You could say the inside of the church is the Bible.  BEAUTIFUL.

Monreale Cathedral Grounds
The Cathedral grounds are an architectural masterpiece.  Built in 1200, the Portico in the cloister is supported by 108 pairs of columns.  Here's the kicker:  Each of the 216 columns is uniquely carved and/or decorated with glass tile mosaics.  No two columns are alike.
photo: Jeff Piers
Though the records containing the identity of the engineers, artists, and craftsmen who worked on Monreal Cathedral have been lost through time, there is one who wished to be remembered.  A north-side capital has this inscription: "Romanus, son of Constantine, a marble worker."
photo: Jeff Piers

White marble crypt of William II (The Good)
He died at age 37

King William IIs crypt rests peacefully inside the Cathedral.
A statue of him holding his Monreale Cathedral looks as if he were offering it as a gift to the ages.  Gift, indeed.  William certainly couldn't take his beloved Monreale with him, but what he left behind was a treasure of beauty and inspiration for future generations.  

Grazie, William the Good, Grazie.
Sorella Ashley Nef

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