In the United States, a building 25 years or older becomes a prime candidate for being razed, to be replaced by something shinier, sleeker and, well, newer. Not in Italy, or much of Europe for that matter, as I had the pleasant opportunity to observe. One reason for my recent blog “sabbatical” was that my wife and I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a group tour of Italy. As a result, I can now attest there’s a lot of old stuff there – REALLY old stuff.
Unlike in the USA, where we’re quick to demolish domed stadiums, retail stores, hotels and all sorts of other structures the moment they start to exhibit the first signs of age, things in “the old country” were built to last. Perhaps, even as they were being constructed, architects and builders were considering how these grand facilities would present themselves years later in what we could term, the “pasta tense.”
Take the Roman Colosseum, for example. The revered amphitheater was built in the first century A.D. Even though it has taken a beating over the years, it remains a stately icon of history. No one’s booking the Colosseum for sporting events these days, but neither is anyone in Rome contemplating tearing it down and replacing it with a shopping mall or condominiums.
The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, known best for Michelangelo’s wondrous ceiling paintings, is young by comparison, dating back only to the 15th century. But more than 600 years later, it still mesmerizes many thousands of visitors daily, not only for its artistic beauty but also for the compelling spiritual messages captured by each work of art. The imagery – and truths – throughout the Vatican have endured the passing of time.
This “built to last” philosophy was evident everywhere we went, whether it was ancient Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis; the ruins of Pompeii, reminders of the once-prospering Roman city buried by the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius; the hillside city of Montefiascone, or picturesque seaside communities like Positano and Sorrento.
The imposing “faraglioni” rock formations off the island of Capri, which have adorned travelogues as well as theatrical films set in that area, leave their own lasting impressions – not of human imagination and construction, but of natural wonder.
During our 12-day travels across what the natives know as Italia, I found much to take note of and ponder. But the enduring qualities of what we saw firsthand ranked right at the top of the list.
Pride of workmanship, perseverance and creativity were represented in each, but in many cases, we could see another quality on display: devotion to the Creator God. In my view, it was a manifestation of the admonition from Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
Renaissance painters, not only Michelangelo but also masters like Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Roselli, labored countless hours on frescos and draperies to create scenes that depicted biblical characters and stories. Even if these artists were commissioned and compensated for their work, there is something exquisite and timeless about their work that could only have come through labors of love for their God.
Everywhere we visited in Italy we found churches and chapels boasting a level of craftsmanship rarely seen in our contemporary world. In fact, you might say in some respects they have an otherworldly quality to them, work undertaken as a form of worship.
I suspect undergirding some of these projects was King Solomon’s declaration in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” If only we could see more people pursuing their work with that sort of passion and motivation today.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.