Wednesday, September 09, 2009


A millenia ago this city of Pisa, like many others, was entering a golden age which was to last for almost five hundred years. That period, the Middle Ages, began as Europe emerged out of the Dark Ages. Roughly the period included what is known as the Romanesque and Renaissance in art and architecture, although social developments mirrored and were reflected in what was happening in those two spheres.

A millenia ago Europe, as we know it, did not exist. There was the Papacy and the Empire, and here that was reflected in two factions - Guelfs and Ghibelline's. Each city owed allegiance to one or the other and internal factions constantly emerged which struggled for supremacy. But that sense of allegiance to the city and the feudal Lord (or Lady!) or Prince rather than a State or country (such notions, particularly the latter, hardly existed) must have created a great feeling of belonging and security. Such a worldview meant that whilst communities might owe allegiance to the Prince he (or she) was free to make whatever alliances best suited them. In that sense it seems a truly (feudal) world-view not limited by concepts of nationality, a very modern concept and one which is arguably the cause of many modern problems. New ideas seem to have spread as quickly as travel allowed, and as some people seem to have travelled widely, there was no lack of a sense of development. People seem to have sensed they belonged to the micro - the macro was delineated by faith and faith meant one knew that one belonged to a Kingdom of far greater importance than anything on earth. And that defined behaviour. The Campo Santo wasnt just an exquisite cemetery for its walls were frescoed with scenes to remind people how to live a virtuous life, illustrated with both Christian and Classical imagery, if they were to avoid hell. The rewards for either were graphically portrayed in those early Renaissance paintings. This reminder was backed up by the liturgy of the Church (and this included using whatever means might help people reflect on how to live a Godly life) and the reading of the Scriptures. And how have we improved on that?

In Pisa those who had been prepared for Baptism were taken to the great octagonal Baptistry with its dome pointing to heaven. But it is not part of the duomo - there is still a journey to make before one enters though the great doors to taste of the divine Gifts. Our medieval ancestors had a worldview which was of immense sophistication. It cannot be resurrected, but has it something still to teach us?

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