From 15 until 29 May 2015 we made a trip to Italy (Tuscany and Milan) and the region Schwarzwald in South Germany. In Tuscany we visited the major towns of Florence, Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra. All different, but important representatives of the early renaissance and still in splendid condition. Churches and palaces for local rulers were and are the most important buildings.
I write under this title because recently I wrote an article for the Indonesian cultural magazine Basis about the hype in western countries to build museums. In the medieval and renaissance period many towns were in competition to build more beautiful, richer and larger churches. Now this has changed into the fever to build museums that attract tourists and are more or less the label for a town and society.
Churches are usually free of entrance fee, but in various places this is now changing: in Pisa and Siena a fee is charged for visits. In London a fee of 20 pound is asked to visit Saint Paul's Cathedral. About € 12.50 is charged for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. (E-ticket for € 15.00 'save two hours waiting!). Not only for entrance fee the great churches of Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) resemble museums. In these places many more people come for the sight-seeing than for the church services. In our town of Utrecht every Saturday afternoon a concert is given, either by a solo organ player or a full choir sometimes with orchestra. The conductor of the choir quite often complains that the audience for the concerts is larger than for the church service, where also a good choir sings the music and an extra sermon is given.
In the centre we see here the presentation of Mary in the temple. It is not from biblical stories, but from apocryphal tradition. So it has also become an important part of the life of Mary according the the Qur'an.
Its is here from the duomo of Volterra, the small town that was the major place for Etruskian archeology. Below is a quite realistic painting from the same church. Above we find Mary who crushes the head of satan, here represented as the snake of paradise, but with a human head. Adam and Eve are not represented here as the modest or even shy figures as we often find them in late medieval paintings, but as quite happy models for perfect human beings, although the leaves of the fig are here present as well.
I still remember how Muslim students were shocked to see the naked statues adorning the graves in Westminster Abbey in London.. In this rather small church this very big painting is rather attracting attention as well. There were many visitors in the church-museum (also with a modest entrance fee!).
We made a long walk to see remnants of the Roman period (Ambrosius, Augustine) that Sunday and were in the much smaller Santo Lorenzo, where a vivid parish attended Mass and small children were receiving their first communion. Here we had the feeling of the true building for religious ceremonies and not for museum guests.